Love Your Character
I guess it should probably go without saying that if you want to write fiction well you have to be in love with your characters. I don’t mean the creepy, smoochy Pygmalion kind of love. I’m talking about finding them fascinating, interesting, compelling and simply fun to work with.
If you’re familiar with my writing mistakes list then you know my caveat that if you have to invent scenes to give a character something to do that character may not belong in the narrative anymore. All fiction writing is inventing scenes for characters to act in, of course, so what I mean by that is that if the character doesn’t fit into the narrative well, or you’re repeatedly stumped finding things for that character to do in the story, maybe the character doesn’t belong.
This can apply to the larger scale. Sometimes I find that some characters are just more fun to write. Speaking from experience, every chapter I wrote from the point of view of Lisette in Stalking the Beast was like cake. I had to revise virtually none of her chapters because I could hear her voice so very clearly. I liked writing from her viewpoint so much that I immediately pitched the idea of some novels from her perspective to Paizo’s James Sutter, a project I’ve unfortunately been too busy to follow up on. Someday.
It’s not that I didn’t like the other characters. It’s just that some have an kind of extra oomph that makes them easier to write. If you find those, hang on to them and keep finding stuff for them to do.
Allow me to illustrate with another example. The current work in progress has been a long time stewing. I was working with characters and concepts from it at least 25 years ago. The problem was that despite all the fascinating characters I kept having trouble finding the right point of view. (Earlier on there were more significant problems, like inexperience with novel plotting and the like.)
The reason I’m writing this post today is that after about a year with the new incarnation of the story I realized I just didn’t much care about the character with the point of view. I knew she needed to be there, but I wasn’t really interested in where she came from, and I didn’t know her story arc. I was far more interested in the characters around her, one of whom, an old wise woman, was slated to be met soon and then… well, if the wise woman were introduced to the narrative, what would the POV character do anymore? I resolved to keep interaction with the new character to a minimum and then to give her something else to do, away from the main plot.
But the wise woman was SO much more interesting than the POV character. Finally it hit me. I’d eliminate the POV character and make this character they were going to meet, the old wise woman, the POV character. Except it wouldn’t be her as an old wise woman, but a clever younger woman who hadn’t quite hit her peak yet. I knew HER arc, her background, the abilities she would come to master.
Suddenly everything started clicking into place and I fell in love with the story again. At this point I’m having a hard time stopping writing (or revising, as the case may be) at night and wake up thinking about the work in the morning. I keep hoping one of these days that this stuff will come more easily to me so I can get these stories onto paper faster…