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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Giving your characters a life of their own

     Pretty much the topic header sums up what this post is about today, but what I am really looking into talking about is whether you control your characters at all. Funny thing is lots of writers that are my friends like to just make up a character and stick them into an uncomfortable situation. From then on the character sort of controls the story, depending on their traits and who they are as a person etc. For me this does not work fully. Of course I let my character have his personality and I have him make the choices that he would but I actually just recently started working on outline and it made my life so much easier. My very first novel that I finished writing last year, sucked. I let the characters lead the way and the plot got very messed up. My main character was clueless about everything and the ending is for a different post completely. I am not saying that writing by pure instinct is at all bad by the way, it may work great for your guys and many other writers but for me it’s a no no I guess.

     So when I decided to rewrite the book to make it perfect I ended up taking my lovely antagonist, placing him as the main character, removing most of the rest and outlining. I outlined every chapter in detail until the ending, even estimating the word count of every chapter and calculating it so that it would fit below 90,000 with a good ending. Because a bad ending will make agents scowl. Any ways this worked like magic for me. It made my life so much easier and I managed to follow the storyline perfectly (well I have 2 chapters to go to the end still…). Don’t get me wrong though, I add, I take away and it doesn’t turn out exactly like the outline, but the outline gave me a path to follow so that I don’t get lost. How about you? Do you like to give your characters the lead or take the lead yourself and plan their path out?


  1. I tried to outline my last draft and failed miserably at it. I didn't even get the genre right. Tried to force it to be YA when the character was MG. (Emma was even PG, a contrast from the previous finished draft.)

  2. Just noticed. Thanks for listing my blog. -K

  3. I let my characters run pretty much free, and I wound up with, well, let's just say it's a plot I can't describe in a way that will work for a query. Just a couple of days ago I began tearing it apart, and I'll be outlining this time, at least at the start so that I can say "this is my premise, and this is where the story's going." (Last time I wrote a 10-page synopsis before I started, and within the first couple of pages everything changed. Oh well.) Looks like I'll be demoting one character, promoting another, ripping out a huge chunk of the novel, and changing the ending.

    I'm nervous about outlining -- letting my characters run free has served well in a lot of ways. I've learned a great deal by going with the flow. Now I have to find a balancing point, so the spontaneity is there, but we still get to have a plot that hangs together.

  4. I can't outline to begin with; it find it too constricting and then I just trap my characters with my own ideas. What I find is that since I try to live my novel as best I can (applying school, reading, little incidents, etc.) new ideas about my worlds or characters unfold as I continue to explore. So I start out with a loose outline, at least an idea of the plot and resolution, and outline the rest as I go along. Plenty changes, of course, and I didn't even work out the real solution to my ending until after I had finished the book (I'm still confused as to how that happened), but it keeps the mystery, keeps me engaged in the project, and gives my characters enough leeway for them to become themselves.

    I love everyone's thoughts here...such a fundamental part of novel writing, it's great to see what everyone else does.

  5. Yeah, it's cool to see how different we all write.

  6. I've only written one novel, so I can't really say that this is how it will always be for me, but I definitely set out a basic plot outline and even a rough sketch of several characters before I ever began to write.

    Then I let the characters take control of certain scenes and themes, and as long as they didn't deviate from the plot too distinctly it all worked out. Of course revisions and re-writes were required but in the long run it seems that for me a bit of both works best for me.

    Anyway I found your blog in the list of links on Justine's and I have become a follower. Please feel free to visit mine and do the same.