In my previous post, The Importance of Building a Relationship with Your Character, I described a little bit about what it was like to be in a strong and working relationship with your characters. But, just like relationships with living people, these connections to your creations have to be maintained through communication and respect. There is such a thing as an Author overstepping their bounds into a character’s life in ways that may lead to stunting the development of that character… or halting it all together.
Learn to Let Go
It didn’t take me very long before I learned an important lesson in writing: The Author’s biggest mistake is ever thinking they are in control of anything during the writing process. As I mentioned in a previous post, writing is an art most thoroughly experienced when your characters are free to do as they please… not as it pleases you. You’re simply there to record the happenings.
However, all too often we try to force characters to conform to our plots and plans, unaware of the fact that by doing this, we aren’t allowing the characters the freedom to grow and develop as they naturally would. This also stresses any sort of relationship you might have with your character — after all, no one likes an overbearing control freak for a friend, family member or significant other. Your characters feel the same way.
How many times have you read a story or watched a movie where the characters felt completely flat and bland… as if their only purpose was to recite lines and act out their parts in the story? Or how about characters that we have watched grow and develop over the length of a story suddenly do something completely out of character just to satisfy the forward motion of the plot?
Readers can sense when a character’s integrity and spirit has been bent in order to further the intentions of the Author. It comes off as something unnatural and can be the starting point for the decline of the character’s development as a whole. Once an Author gets on the wrong course, it is sometimes hard to get the story back to where they need it to be. The character becomes nothing more than a forced puppet jumping from one plot point to the next.
It’s also the fastest way to destroy a hard-earned relationship with your character.
Consequences: Characters in Revolt!
About 75% of the time, if I find myself writing myself into a corner in such a way, my characters will completely rebel on me. They become distant, difficult to read and judge… sometimes impossible for me to write. I complain that I can’t “feel” their intentions and responses to the situations I introduce them into. Over time, I’ve learned that it’s simply their way of letting me know that I’ve gone off course… I’ve overstepped my boundaries… and they no longer want to play the game.
Every now and then I do get a character that’s placid enough to allow me to keep stumbling over myself in the wrong direction without pitching a fit. But very soon, I find myself becoming less and less enthralled with the process of writing… because it’s terribly boring and tedious to have to force one scene after another from my fingers on to the screen. I take a step back from the situation and try to find where I’ve gone wrong.
It’s far easier to connect… listen… understand… and allow your characters to do as they naturally would. You’ll find that the story begins to write itself and your relationship with those characters will begin to strengthen as you learn more about them. Writing isn’t wooden. It’s flowing and alive.
Just like your characters.
Ways to Break Your Relationship With Your Characters
Here’s a list of the ways that writers can destroy their hard-formed relationships with your characters. These are not the only ways, I’m sure. Feel free to list your own discoveries:
- Forcing a character to do something that’s not in-character to do
- Turning a character into a plot device
- Not giving a character enough breathing space for natural development
- Ignoring tangents that can lead to development for your character (especially when they seem to desire it)
- Forcing your characters into an unnatural or unrealistic love relationship (this becomes an EPIC FAIL to the readers, trust me!)
- Changing your character for any reason outside of natural character development processes (ie. reader feedback/demands, fads, fashions, net trends)
- Developing characters simply to embody some sort of intangible symbolic meaning (ie. “This character represents my feelings on XYZ issue.” “This character symbolizes the virtue of truth and justice in my world.”). These sort of characters work in certain kinds of stories… but when you become so worried about what the character stands for rather than who the character is, you’re going to find yourself with a boring and flat character on your hands.
Just remember my writer’s creed: The character will tell the Author what they need to know when the time is right. The character always knows best.