“As writers of fiction, we owe it to our readers to give them the deepest possible players we can imagine.”
As part of Red Adept’s Wicked! tour, I am honored to welcome Edward Lorn to Writingsleuth today. His guest post, “A Character Piece,” is a paean to creative storytelling.
A Character Piece
Whether my work in progress is a short story or a novel, I start every tale the same way. I let my characters do the talking. I might have a plot concept in mind, a possible place the story might lead me, but if my character decides to deviate from the course, I give them the freedom to do so. If I find their logic in error, I can always go back and rewrite, but it’s rare when that happens. Let’s take my new novella, Hope for the Wicked, for example. The main thread of the story was to be about a young girl who’d been kidnapped by the Mexican cartel. The idea wasn’t completely original, but I’d always wanted to write a story based in Mexico. I sat down at my trusty old laptop and began typing away. I was introduced to a husband and wife, two retired contract killers who’d recently gone straight and opened a private investigation firm. Okay, so I had the people who’d be going after my missing girl, and everything seemed to be going as planned. Then I was introduced to the Trudeaus, an affluent family whose daughter, Amy, had been abducted. Bernice Trudeau had a little more in mind for my antagonists then I initially expected. Not only did the worried mother want her daughter found, but she also wanted the kidnappers dead. The first thing that popped into my mind was, “Of course. Why else would my main characters be retired killers?” See, this is the beauty of writing by the seat of your pants. If you let your characters tell the story, you will find a great deal of information hidden inside their imaginary heads. Like real people, fictional characters have backstories and motivations that can easily be missed if you don’t take the time to get to know them. I don’t character sketch for this exact reason. I know that sounds odd, but let me explain. When you meet someone for the first time, you automatically build preconceived notions about them before words are even exchanged. Maybe their clothes are stained and they smell like yesterday’s bowel movement come to life, so you assume they have bad personal hygiene, that they abhor showering, and can’t be bothered to wipe themselves properly. What you’ve just done is a character sketch. Now, let’s say you sit down, plug up your nose, and get to know this person. You find out he’s just dropped his nine-month-old off at daycare. Unfortunately, though, the father didn’t realize the kid’s diaper had leaked while he was holding the baby. You just happened to bump into him on his way home to change. Had you taken the time to let him tell his own story before jumping to conclusions, you wouldn’t feel like that stain on the father’s shirt right about now. I know plenty of good authors who character sketch and it ends up working out just great for them, but I can’t help but wonder what their characters would have told them, given the chance. As writers of fiction, we owe it to our readers to give them the deepest possible players we can imagine. No one likes a cardboard cutout or a character popped fresh from the Jell-O mold. Everyone in this world has his or her own unique quirks, likes, and dislikes. I have rarely bumped into two people who speak the same way. These things are what make your characters interesting. Not only that, but if you listen to these fictional entities, your story will be stronger for it. I know, I know, you think you’re the one writing the story, that you have control and all that nonsense, but the rabbit hole goes much further than the depths of your mind. These stories are there whether we choose to write them or not. I don’t know where they come from, but I’m glad they exist. If you aren’t already a pantser, then give it a try. I think you might enjoy where your characters take you.
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