Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How characters can set up your writing for a fall

I am currently reviewing and fixing next autumn’s* offering from me, The Fallen One, and in looking at the ms with very fresh eyes (the last time I’d even thought about this story was nearly a year ago), I am pleased with how orderly and organized the plot seems to be. Then I began to consider why this happens to be for this particular story, especially in comparison to some other novels I’ve written.

My conclusion is that it’s a reflection of the novel’s protagonist. She’s very organized and orderly. Marta Hendriks is an opera singer, and at the story’s opening, it’s at once made clear that she’s also very self-sufficient at her core. That’s how the novel get its impetus: she’s thrown into a series of situations where this basic and important part of her personality doesn’t work. She doesn’t deal well at all with turmoil. The plot throws major turmoil at her and she’s forced to react to it. For her, making “sense of it all” is of paramount importance to her psychological well-being. Without this, the plot could not move forward effectively.

But what if a writer creates characters who are quirky, unpredictable, and well, difficult?

I did this with two novels that share the same character, violinist Victoria Morgan: The Lark Ascending and Cemetery of the Nameless. While the finished products turned out just fine, thank you, I don’t remember writing these novels very fondly. There were dead ends, false starts, whole scenes that were a complete waste of time to write. Why? Because Victoria Morgan is a flake. She’s one of those musicians who is incredibly brilliant musically, but a complete disaster personally. She lives for the moment, has little foresight and never considers consequences. Basically, she just reacts to life. Her husband is left to pick up the pieces.

Was it any wonder that her scenes in both novels never went the way I imagined they should? Thank heavens the other protagonist was the opposite. When he took center stage, I could relax and let the plot unfold in an orderly fashion. In Tory’s chapters I was always on edge, waiting for the next outburst that would take my story careening right off the sheet of paper and heaven knew where.

That’s the danger, I posit, when writers create quirky characters. If they’re going to be true to who they are, and therefore believable, they’re going to have to do unexpected and quirky things. As writers, we have to be ready to deal with that. We must be ready for them to run riot through our story. We will be forced to clean up after them.

With that thought, I’ll close by saying that I’m glad I’m not Elmore Leonard. Although, that being said, I think I may be up for another challenge. Life isn’t as vibrant when it always runs to expectation...

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* Due to the novel’s title, I do believe I’m going to be using this word a lot in 2012!

7 comments:

dissertationrelief.com said...
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Aline Templeton said...

I'd never thought of it that way, Rick, but you could well be right. I'll have a good think before choosing my next heroine.

Rick Blechta said...

Well, that’s my theory, at least. I’m very interested in hearing if other writers have experienced this. I’d think it would be particularly exhausting if one were writing a series with a schizoid protagonist.

I’m also sort of up for writing another book with a character like this. Hmmm... I just got an idea for a plot...

Donis Casey said...

Every time I finish a novel I feel exhausted from wrestling with the uncooperative characters. They just do what they want to do with no regard whatsoever for the plot. I think I'd better try taking a page from your book (as it were) and writing about a less unruly protagonist.

maldives cruise said...
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Hannah Dennison said...

I never thought about this before. How interesting! One of my favorite characters is Penny Brannigan (Elizabeth Duncan's protagonist in her mystery series set in Wales). I love Penny because she is so level-headed, sensible and yes, organized! I want to be Penny. I agree with you all. I also think my Vicky Hill character needs therapy.

Anonymous said...

yeah!!!