Thursday, April 21, 2011

Get Control of Your Characters

Ever have a character show up in your WIP and you liken the experience to a neighbor barging through your front door, bee-lining for your fridge in nothing but Fruit of the Looms?

I have.

So what to do when you’re cruising along with your novel and a character shows up out of the blue? Most certainly a good evaluation is in order. Fridge-going skivvy donning character needs to undergo a necessary exam before he off-roads your work and it ends up in a ditch, then ditched by potential readers.

The following are a few questions you may want to have on hand for an interrogation such as this:

  • What is the purpose of this character’s presence in my work? What is his role?
  • Does she help reveal any crucial elements about my MC?
  • Does he serve as a distraction, thus earning the name Peter Cottontail for veering your work off course?
  • Does she move the story along (read Patti Hill’s account of drop dead Fred in this Novel Matters post)?
  • How well do you know him and can you trust him not to sabotage your story?

It’s fun to be a writer. We get to play with pretend friends as adults. But we need to keep our friends corralled and we can’t forget who bosses whom.

We are in charge. We can cut them out at any time. Like a skilled director, we too can yell “Cut” and remove characters when they don’t serve to better our work.

Have you ever killed off a drop dead Fred, a Peter Cottontail or a Wandering Wanda? Or on the flip side, have you ever been introduced to an unexpected character who managed to make your WIP sing?

*photo from Flickr


Joanne Sher said...

Oh, what a fabulous post. I have a character I'm praying about right now in my current WIP. May need to either reign her in or kick her out. Thanks for this!

Casey said...

Very true! Characters can get out of hand so fast. What is up with that?? :-)

Pepper said...

I love out-of-control characters.
Maybe it's because it mirrors my life - Out of Control :-)

In my YA, I literally had a character 'run' onto the page and slam into the front of the car. Totally unexpected. ANd NOW she's one of the major characters and I'm pretty sure she's going to be the heroine of one of the sequels. AHHHHH!

Oh man, and characters dying?!? My hubby has the hardest time understanding how I'm shocked when a character dies - especially since I'm writing the book and all....

Ralene said...

In my rewrite of DS, I had to get rid of one of the characters in the first chapter. She was only in the first chapter (and very important to it as well), but she ended up being unnecessary.

Like Pepper said, I'm always shocked when a character dies in my story--even though I'm writing it! I once bawled for like an hour as I killed off a very important character. Yeah, my sister (who was watching my kids at the time) thought I was nuts til she read the story. Muahahaha...

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Joanne, I'm right there with you. I think it was Donald Maass in the Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook who suggests cutting charcters if you've reached over ten. Found this to make a lot of sense.

Casey, I know I can use them to solve plot problems or other problems that should be handled otherwise.

Pepper, I get sad when they die too. I get the whole surprise of it. I had a very odd bird show up in my WIP and as I kept writing I discovered exactly why he was there. So glad I'm hanging on to that odd bird.

Ralene, Wow, good thing she only showed up in the first chapter. Not too much clipping there and I'm with you about killing off characters. Maybe they all are really parts of us. ;0

~ Wendy

Mary Vee Writer said...

I sometimes have the shy character. They hide behind a corner and peek in my direction, wondering if I'll notice. Once I coaxed him closer, I found he held the key to the story. Good grief, what if I hadn't noticed?

Sarah Forgrave said...

LOL, Wendy, Loved your opening sentence! That visual is awesome...or scary.

I had a character surprise me in a good way. A sweet old lady that showed up in a minor scene turned out to play a key role when I did edits, and now I want to squeeze her with hugs every time I re-read her scenes.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

I loved your questions...very helpful. In one of my stories, one of the knights in the castle surprised me and became a fun character. Love it when that happens!

Keli Gwyn said...

I've had some characters surprise me--in good ways. I've also had to tell some character who's boss when they attempted to take the story in the wrong direction.