My characters have a lot of opinions.
They're very talkative, even outside of the confines of their own stories. They like to hang out in my brainspace and make snarky commentary while I write. They make friends with characters from other stories, and sometimes even with my friends’ characters. They often start talking in my mind as I process life, commenting on little things that resonate with them or that connect with their stories and worlds.
Most of all, they speak up if they don’t like what I’m doing with their stories. Writing for them means I have to listen to them, and it’s often a growing experience. Here are a few ways in which my characters challenge me as both a writer and a person.
1) My characters challenge my own priorities and perceptions of the world.
It took me months to nail down Sylvie’s ultimate goal in the Star-Fae Trilogy. I kept trying to give her a goal that resonated with me: saving the world, becoming a competent leader, something along those lines. Sylvie didn’t respond to any of my ideas, and I finally had to admit something:
Sylvie’s deepest dream is to have a family, including a traditional-looking marriage and ALL the children.
What?? My personal sensibilities did not know what to do with that. But Sylvie wouldn’t budge until I reworked my plans for the trilogy in order to give her what she wanted. Granted, I’m still having fun finding unconventional ways to make her dreams come true, and she’ll have to save the world before she can have the life she wants. Ultimately, though, I had to set aside what I thought my protagonist should want, and instead acknowledge and value what she really desired.
2) My characters force me to see new angles and possibilities.My first draft of Halayda was tight. Super tight. There wasn’t a single extraneous scene, because everything fit together just. That. Well.
Until a character appeared out of nowhere and demanded a major role in the story.
Diza wasn’t in the first draft, but once she showed up and set her sights on Zad (as a husband) and Taylan (as a friend), there was no stopping her. Zad insisted too, and he completely blew off the love interest I was originally planning to set him up with. But just because Diza immediately saw a place for herself in the story didn’t mean I did. Working Diza into the story in a way that was satisfying, well-integrated, and true to her personality required me to rethink the role of each major character (including much of Taylan’s journey), figure out a lot more world-building (like the fact that Kyure is part of a vast multiverse. Who knew?), and delve more deeply into the villain’s backstory and motivations (more on this in book 2!).
It was a frustrating process. There were times when I resented having to pry apart my tight draft in order to work in new storylines. In the end, though, it made for a much richer, deeper story. And all because one character wouldn’t shut up.
3) My characters keep me humble.
While drafting Halayda, I’d planned a scenario in which Taylan was supposed to hunt down his traitorous general and deal with him. Just one problem: Sylvie had been captured in the previous chapter. Taylan informed me, in colorful language, that he would not deal with any other threat or follow any subplot until Sylvie was safe again.
I told him he should go along with the plan for the sake of the plot.
He said my plot was dumb.
In the end, I had to admit he was right. I couldn’t make Taylan do something that was out of character, even if it served the plot or made sense to me. I reworked the last quarter of the book’s outline because of the critique of a person who doesn’t exist in a conventional sense, and it was worth it. The ending wouldn’t have been as strong if I’d gone with my first plan.
I don’t have a label for my relationship with my characters, because it takes many forms. They’re friends who keep me company on long, lonely drives and fill the silence when I can’t fall asleep at night. They’re reflections of me, often in enlightening and unflattering ways. They’re grown-up children who challenge the way I raised them. They’re mentors who give me insights into the world and human nature. I'm grateful to have them in my head... even when they don't know when to hold their tongues. ;-)
Do you have fictional characters who share your brainspace? How do you interact with them, and what role do they play in your life?