Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Playing god

I’d like to pick up on Vicki’s entry from yesterday. You definitely need to read it first. I’ll wait here...

I firmly agree with Vicki that characters need to grow organically on their own to be truly believable. Based on the reviews my books get, and the comments that readers have made to me, I know that I have been successful.

Anyone who is a parent knows that the little being you (and your spouse, partner, whatever) have lovingly created, is their own individual very early on. No matter what, no matter how much guidance, advice, even swats on the bum you give them, they will ultimately do what they want/need to do. And so it is with the characters who inhabit our books. We create them, then we have to give them the freedom to do what they need to do, in their own way.

Be warned, though; it can be dangerous. Characters created in this manner occasionally create plot dilemmas of magnificent proportions. I’ve experienced this more than once, almost to the point of sinking the novel. When that happens, as in any successful relationship, you have to negotiate. To this end, I will often take long walks with my “invisible friends” in order to talk things over with them in a non-threatening environment (on the page is not the place to mix it up). We discuss what I need them to do in order for the plot to move forward in a cohesive manner, and they tell me why that won’t work for them. On all but one occasion*, we worked it out amicably, in fact, a few times they've actually convinced me to change the plot to suit them.

I know this all sounds very schizophrenic, but I also know there are a lot of writers out there who will agree that what I’m describing isn’t all that abnormal — at least for us wordhawks. In fact, it's sort of fun.

To the uninitiated, though, I’m sure it seems bizarre. (“You have discussions with imaginary people?!”) But, for me, it also really works. It’s my firm belief that no amount of creative writing exercises, outlining, summarizing or other time wasters can equal it. Of course, if the writer has very little imagination to begin with, he/she may need all these crutches, but I’ll bet that writers using these methods don’t often come up with memorable characters that readers identify with as real people.

Ultimately, fiction is a process of the imagination, and if a writer can’t imagine who their characters really are, then perhaps they shouldn’t be writing fiction. Heck, fiction doesn’t often pay more than a pittance. If you can write, but lack that inner spark of character creativity, perhaps non-fiction is a better choice. At least it generally offers a better financial return.

But if you can’t wait to spend more time with your invisible friends, then you should realize you’re stuck in a fictional world.


* In this case, the first draft of what would become Cemetery of the Nameless, my character, a composer, evolved all by himself into someone who whined and snivelled his way through life. By page 80, I hated the little bastard. Rewriting didn’t help. He’d straighten up and fly right for several pages and then would start whining again as soon as my back was turned. I knew then that I’d be forced to kill him before the novel hit page 150, and that was sort of a dead end since the story was being written in first person.


Vicki Delany said...

I wonder if you could find a corelation between children who have invisible friends and children who grow up to be writers. One of my three daughters had a very well defined invisible friend. No sign of a creative writing spark yet, but I will be watching!

Rick Blechta said...

How could you know the friend was well defined? They were invisible!


Interesting point, though. Any takers/confessions from Type M readers?

I personally didn't have any invisible friends, but I did have a pet cockroach named Skippy.