Friday, January 28, 2011
Are Your Characters Playing Against Type?
Yes. To answer your next (and possibly only question), I am clinically insane.
They just haven't caught me yet.
Some writers relieve writing fatigue by trying different genre-bends or perhaps writing in an entirely new one. Others try writing exercises: flash fiction, writing from a third-party prompt, writing non-fiction or news.
I do those things too, and highly recommend any and all experiments to keep the words flowing and the ideas percolating. However, I have another little idea that I employ:
We've all read haughty film review where the reviewer says that an actor was either mis-cast or didn't show enough chemistry with their onscreen partner.
As the lone writer, producer, director, stagehand, prop manager, make up artist and caterer of my story, I have the power to cast all the actors in my stories, single-handedly. There's no committee meeting or back-and-forth with other producers. There's no scheduling conflicts and no personality clashes. No spoiled starlets either. I get who I want, when I want them.
So, to keep things fresh, I will often throw a character in to a spot or a role that he's probably not comfortable with. In "On The Gathering Storm" I have an unsupportive, self-centred, hippie playing the part of mental confidant to Hannah as she goes through the most excruciating ordeal of her life. On the surface, this particular gal is probably the last person you'd rely on to keep you sane in a crisis. She's not particularly endearing in the beginning and readers have told me this. They've also told me that they lighten up on her as the story goes and genuinely care for her by the end, appreciating how her presence calms the main character and even propels the plot. This is not only a satisfying character arc, but during the writing of the story, it kept me interested in her, kept me peeking at her in different ways and wanting to use her to tell bits of the story.
It was extremely helpful to yank a hard, unlikeable character without the apparent chops to handle tough situations and make her soften and step up to the challenge of supporting others.
To me, these are some of the most satisfying moments in fiction: when characters not only DO the unexpected, but are able to HANDLE the unexpected -- some detail or event that seems waaaay out there for them.
Another example is from my upcoming novel, THALO BLUE. (It should be available in the next two weeks for the curious). Our main character Sebastion is a terribly introverted boy, partly because of his upbringing, partly because of his innate character and partly because of his condition -- which makes him unique, and therefore, lonely.
For the book, this method did two things: offered some needed vulnerability and tenderness in a story that started out painful and dark and created an opportunity for Sebastion to experience something new which most of us have experienced but in a way that will be new and different for readers. I won't say what it is but the curious can check it out -- THALO BLUE is currently available.
Characters can be so much fun if you cast them against type a bit. Fishes out of water can put a lot of energy into a scene or a whole book. Put a fat old man in a story about attractive youth. Have a housewife in a shoot-em-up scenario and see how they both deal with it. It might reveal a lot about them and their surroundings. Or, it might just reveal something to you that you can use and explore.