I like to get into discussions from time to time with my Muse. Why her? She always listens, and she’s pretty sharp. And she doesn’t steer me wrong. So when I get confused, I know I can speak with her, and she’ll not give me a non-answer.
I don’t remember if I’ve spoken to her about this subject, though, because my mind is all over the place these days. Finished the Couples Dance revised edit; found seven possible suckers–I mean, publishers that might be good fits; needed to write queries; started editing Echoes–busy day since late Friday night, and yesterday. Barely found time to eat . . .
Here goes: what is it about writers who say their characters are telling them what to do? Not to sound too much like a guy who collects Porches like I might collect bad habits, but what’s up with that? ’Cause the last time I looked, my characters, while they live with me, they’re not telling me what to do.
And I have a very long history of jerking my characters around.
Allow me to explain:
It helps if you know that, besides being a writer, I’m also a gamer. Now, there are very many different kinds of gamers. Some like cards, other board games, other table top RPGs. I was in that last category.
When one says, “Table top RPGs,” most people go, “Huh?” If I say, “Dungeons and Dragons,” most people will usually go, “Oh, that crap.” Like a person my age could never play that.
Well, really, I didn’t. I usually played games that were much cooler.
To give you an idea of what it looked like when I played, let me lay it out for you. You have a group of people sitting at a table. There are numerous folks all staring at one person sitting at one end, who may or may not be sitting behind a paper screen so players couldn’t see his or her evil die rolls. That person was the Game Master. That person was usually me.
The Game Master (or GM, as we like to say), tells the story for the other players, and that allows their characters to frolic and go forth and have fun–and usually kill a shitload of people in the process. See, the GM is nothing but a story teller, and the telling of the tale determine just how good the game is going to be. Some GMs will put their story on a rail and let that big train roll on. Others put a hell of a lot of work into their craft, and come up with wonderful locations and interesting characters for the player characters (everyone else) to interact with and within.
That last sort of GM was also me.
I had a lot of great characters for my games. There was one couple, they were my favorite, and over the period of a couple of days I ended up with closer to 40 pages of notes about them. By the time the game was over, that collection of notes had expected to almost 60 pages–all of which are, alas, forever lost, as they were on another computer that suffered a dying drive. But I’ll keep that memory alive up in my head for as long as I keep that memory going.
See, the thing I usually do when I hear the, “My characters are telling me what to do!” line, is to scratch my head, because my characters are my creations, not the other way around. I’ll spend time getting into the heads of my characters and try figuring out where they are going, but I’ve yet to have one jump up and go, “Hey, doofbag! If you think I’m going out with that guy, you’re nuts! No, no, no! And when you going to write me up a laptop that rocks? The one I have is shite! I’m gonna–ymmmmhmph!”
Yeah, shut your yap, you. You’re not the boss of me.
Maybe I feel this way because when I was running games, there was something I’d always tell my players. It was a simple statement, but it was true. ”In this game, I’m God. And God will crush your asses if I feel like it.” See, the game being run was my creation, and my imagination, and all the characters the players would meet were mine . . . It was my world, and it was all my call when it came to laying a smackdown upon the characters the players were running.
I feel the same way with the characters in my stories. It’s my world, and they are my puppets–more or less. I love my characters, though I will put them through a ton of crap if it’s demanded by the story. And I have killed one character twice–in the same story! But you know medical technology; she keeps coming back.
I think the biggest different is that I’m not the sort of person who writes by the seat of their pants. I’m not suddenly ceased by the urge to jot things down. When I get an idea I’ll make note of it, then start thinking it out in my head. When it comes time to open up a file on the story, I’ll start doing a little plotting on cards.
It’s during this time that I begin getting into the heads of the characters. I think about what they are like, what they like, I try to develop their personality . . . it’s all a process. Maybe I don’t do it as much for some characters as others–I mean, I know my main characters in Couples Dance are no where near as developed as they are in my other two novels–but I put them together just as I would a story–
Which is probably why before I wrote my NaNo Novel I spent almost two weeks on research, and a lot of that research was, one, getting the ideas for how magic worked in my world; and, two, getting into my characters.
Hey, doesn’t mean I’m right, you know? It could just be my characters are scared of me. As I’ve had a goddess (yes, a real one) tell someone in a story I wrote long ago, “We’re capricious creatures. You never know what we’re going to do, or why we do it.”
Maybe it’s not that my characters are afraid of me.
It’s just that they understand I know what’s best for them.