Monday, March 12, 2012

Can Characters Derail You?

Flipping through cable the other night, I came across the show "My Strange Addiction" on TLC. I don't normally watch it but found myself morbidly fascinated as I watched a clip of a guy in love, like physically in love, with his car. Odd, to say the least, but it made me rethink the post I'd been working on for fear that you, gentle readers, may think I've gone bonkers.

Then I thought, nah. Forge ahead.

So here is my "strange writing addiction"...

I'm crushing on my antagonist.

First off, no, this is NOT a physical relationship, and maybe it's not me, but my MC who's fascinated by...let's call him Luke. In my mind (and in my outline!) he started as a supporting role but suddenly? He wants to steal the show and my heroine's heart.

Thing is...Luke is selfish, mean and manipulative. And of course, totally hot, but a jerk all the same.

So what's a writer to do?

Years ago, I was in an online writing course and our chat somehow lead to the topic of "characters speaking to you". One woman confessed that her characters had told her how to rearrange the furniture in her living room. Thankfully, I was behind a computer and not in front of her rolling my eyes and whispering "They make meds for that, don't they?" to a classmate next to me. At that point, I just thought it was weird.

And now, here's Luke. Sitting next to me, convincing me to write a blog post about him. That's all sorts of sick...isn't it? I even defended him to my crit partners. I cringed when someone called him a turd. No he's not! You just don't get him. I thought.

And then I thought...WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?

I know there are schools of thought in writing that tell us to just go with it, to follow a character, see what comes out of their mouths, let them romp around and we're there to just write it all down. And a lot of times this works for me, when I get out of my own way and let the characters speak, scenes feel more natural and everything just sort of clicks into place. But do you think there's ever a time when a character is speaking a little too loud? A little too insistent, no matter, um, how charming he or she happens to be?

So my question Paper Waiters is this: How do you know if your character is driving you to the best possible scene or completely derailing you? What do you do? Reign them in or let them be?

*My original bad boy crush. Matt Dillon. There is no rhyme or reason for this picture being included with this post except that it's damn sexy - in spite of the cigarette, but I'll let him get away with it because he is, after all, a bad boy...


  1. Robin-- I love this post! Absolutely love it! It is such a very, very real writer's dilemma.

    My first thought that came to mind as I read this may be a crazy one, but I wondered, could this character become your main character? If he speaks to you this much perhaps there is a lot more of his story to tell. Seeing things from his point of view could be interesting. :o)

    Even if he doesn't become your new main character, I wonder if you might still want to explore him further, so the reader can see a bit of his depth and redeeming qualities. Instead of just his slick, villain side.

    Good luck deciding where to go next!

  2. Ah, so see...Luke got to you too, Brianna, lol. Funny thing is my male MC in this book began as a smaller character in another novel I was writing, he just kept getting bigger and bigger and I loved writing his story, that novel was scrapped but he (not Luke!) remained, and he's equally lovely, hot and the total redemptive hero of this novel...but...Luke makes a convincing argument. His role is definitely bigger and who knows where it will take him...hmmmmmm

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. Robin, great topic. This must happen to lots of writers because often enough the sequel to a book is from another character's point of view, and you get the feeling that he or she stole the show. I haven't had that happen to me, exactly, but I have had all sorts of things happen in my fictional space that I wasn't expecting when I sat down to write. Cornelia Funke always talks as if she is discovering her stories, not writing them, and I used to think it was kind of precious and fake. But now I think it's a gift. Which is all a roundabout way of telling you to let your imagination run wild. Because the realer your creations are to you, the better they will probably turn out. Just my two cents.

  4. I agree with Ariel's comment that the more you believe in your characters, the more believable they will be to the readers. So let Luke lead you, Robin -- although you might want to change direction if you see him walking you towards men in white coats...

    The other (slightly contrary) thought I had is maybe you and Luke need to 'take a break' while you date another character (your MC?) for a while. Can you make Luke 'sit in the waiting room' for a while? Does your MC have the strength to demand your attention in a similar way? Where will she lead you (and Luke) if she's in charge?

  5. I say take a ride with that bad boy. You can always tame him in later revisions, but you never know where a wild ride might take you!

  6. Ariel - Great two cents :) I think there may be a future for him in another book.

    Julie - Love the taking a breather from Luke idea, I sometimes have to force myself to do that, but I do find it necessary. He's crucial to the plot, but the book IS NOT about him or his particular journey...yet, anyway.

    Judy - gosh that sounds like so much fun :)

    Thanks ladies!!