Tuesday, February 9, 2016

How to Meet a Character: Part II, Creating and Adjusting

To continue the character vs. story discussion...

So, yesterday my darling sister confronted me about the next to last section from Part I.  She disagreed with my statement that the story is more important than the character, bringing up Anne of Green Gables as an example.  She said that those books don't really have a plot, and the whole point is Anne.  Well, I've thought of that before.  I thought of it months ago when I was first discovering all this stuff, trying to figure it out, to untangle all the knots in my head.  And this is what I wrote down then.

If you're trying too hard to build your character, you're detracting from the story.  And if readers aren't interested in your story, they're not interested in your character.  That's why characters often aren't complete, and it's okay.  Because the book is a story, and the writer realizes that.  He tells us what happens to the character as it relates to the story.
"But Anna, what if there's a book where the entire point is to get to know the character?"
The writer would give the information necessary to know the character.  If not, the book would be rambling and boring.
"But Anna, what if it's a memoir?"
Then we're back at square one, because the only reason memoirs are written is that the person has a story.

The above is edited to be shorter, but the main points are there.  To respond to what Rebecca said: the only reason we love Anne so much is her story.  She is the story.  I think especially in a case like this, it's impossible to separate character and story.  They're two sides of the same coin.

I'm going to share another quote from this same paper, because I think it helps sum up a lot of what I've been trying to say this whole time.

Fact is, the less you describe your character, the more room your readers have to come in and give him the benefit of the doubt.  All people see others differently, and as long as you give them the cold, hard facts, they probably won't be wrong about your character.  People are complicated, so do everyone a favor and let your character be complicated too.

I hope this is all explained to everyone's satisfaction.  Now, to other matters.

Let's talk about character vision.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has imagined an awesome character, tried to write him or her, and been depressed by how flat the attempt fell.  I hate that feeling, when it's like your character is just completely out of your control.  And then you try to wrest them back to what you wanted, and they're just...fake.  Disjointed.  Often bipolar.  At some point you may just throw your pencil down and lean back, sighing in frustration.

Don't sigh.  Get to work.  In order to reunite you and your estranged character, it's important to understand why he left you in the first place.  Normally it's one of two reasons.

1. You try to describe your character too much.
We've talked about this.  We're done with this.

2. You've got no idea who your character is.
To be fair, the second option really isn't likely with the scenario I described at the top, because this is lack of vision.  So let's try and figure this thing out.

I had a huge problem with one of my stories.  Its inspiration was a sentence, which grew until I had a world I wanted to fill with a story.  I also had a role that my main character had to fill.  The problem?  The role had nothing to do with her personality.  I ended up with enough to make a fantastic fairy tale-type story.  A novel?  Not so much.  The thing is, when I was coming up with this whole story, I neglected to figure the character's own personal choices into the plot.  She really could have been anyone.  But what she ended up being was shallow and vague.

Now take Rivenbark (which is the book that I'm currently super proud of).  Theodore was its inception.  I had a definite vision for him: rich, comes across as arrogant, smart, thoughtful, enigmatic, charismatic, surprising.  And the whole story revolves around him.  It doesn't seem that way all the time, but in the end, it does.  The story affects dozens of people, but Theodore is the one who starts the chain reaction, who moves things along when they threaten to slow.  He's the mastermind and, in a way, the victim, and I wrote him because he had that potential.

And thirdly, I am the Enemy is a story I've done a lot of brainstorming for, but haven't written anything except a short prologue for.  It was inspired while I was watching a Republican presidential debate, and politics has a large part in it.  But even before I realized it, I had a vision for the character who would be born out of all the chaos IATE begins with.  Before I knew it, I was fitting the story around my MC (whose name I completely forget, shame on me), and it became her story.

I don't know exactly what application to make after those three paragraphs.  I guess the only thing I can think to say is, when you've got an idea for a story plot, make sure you have a character that figures into it.

I've been hammering story over character so much now that I seem to have forgotten to mention that character is crucial. I truly believe that story is more important, but not by much.  Character is so, so important.  To use an analogy that is probably inaccurate, character is the beans to story's rice.  I'm too tired to come up with something better than that. 

My humble belief is, you should never get really into a story where you're not just as into its main character.

And...I have nothing left to say.  Or if I do and I forgot, it'll go into a part three.  But I think this is it.

Seriously.  I'm so tired.

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