Saturday, August 30, 2008

Getting Into Character

It's time for another blog chain posting and once again I am following the fabulous Mary Lindsey. The question this time around is a two parter: Are your characters real people to you? And how much do you really know about them?

I'll start with the first question - but I am going to change it a bit to make it the more general - Are fictional characters real? The answer to that is unequivocally - yes.

It is this belief that made me as a child always turn of the Flintstones before the end sequence when poor Fred gets locked out of the house and bangs on the door, yelling, "WILMA!" I don't know why, I just felt so bad for poor Fred always getting locked out (and don't even get me started on the cereal commercials where Barney is always taking his cocoa pebbles) of his own house - that I couldn't stand to watch it.

It is this belief that will also forever make me sigh sadly when I think back on the cancellation of My So Called Life and how I will never know how things turned out between Angela and Jordan Catalano.

And it is this belief that makes it impossible for me to watch horror movies because even with squeezing my eyes shut and chanting the mantra, "it's not real, it's just a movie" I still get so freaked out that I even once screamed out loud in the middle of a crowded movie theatre. As if this wasn't bad enough the bad guys inevitably follow me home and I spend the next several days unable to go into a room without checking under beds and in closets to make sure the bad guys aren't there. Sigh, my poor baby boy, when he becomes old enough to worry about the boogie man, instead of reassuring him, I'll be right there trembling beside him.

These examples are from movies and television, but characters come alive in books as well. How else to explain the fury a bad book adaption can ignite or even the recent backlash against Meyer's Breaking Dawn?

So, yes fictional characters are very real to me, but what about my own? That answer is a bit more difficult. While I strive to understand my characters real motivations and figure out who they are it is difficult to feel that they are as truly "real" when I have given them sex-changes, killed their children, and changed their entire past, present, and future with a click of the mouse.

That isn't to say it's all evil calculation in my Frankenstein writing laboratory. When I'm plotting, thinking about character arcs, and re-writing I am in analytical brain mode and at that point my characters are just pawns - however, it is when I am sitting and writing the actual story that my characters will do or say something unexpected and then for a small flash they are real - they are aaalllliiiivvveee (as Leah would say)!!! It is during these moments that I truly get to know my characters.

And to answer the 2nd question - how much I know about my characters really depends upon how many of these moments I have. It was during one of these moments in my first novel that I found out my main character was allergic to bees, and then when I switched over to the analytical plotting part of my brain - it was like, "Hey, I can use that" and it became a major plot point. I think this is what I really love about the writing process - the way it requires that give and take between the critical and creative, and between the real and unreal.

All righty, that's it from me. Now hurry over to Archetype's blog for what I am certain will be an awesome psychological examination of character.


  1. Beautiful post.

    Isn't it interesting that the most redeeming thing about Meyer's books, the characters, are what caused such a backlash with Breaking Dawn? It wasn't only because the readers didn't like the story line itself; they were mad at what she did to the characters, who are (frighteningly) real to many of her readers. It wasn't, "neh, this was not so great." It was, "How could she do that to __________?"

    It is cool how far into characters you get. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Loved the post! :) And I am totally with you. I watched Sixth Sense once, probably 8 years ago, and it still freaks me out. And your comment about trembling with your son over the boogie man...yeah, right there with you :D My poor children. They are usually the ones saying, "it's just a bug mommy." Yeah, I'm not going to be much use against night time monsters.

  3. Good points, Mary! If fictional characters didn't seem real to us, then there'd be no point in fiction at all.

  4. Another great post, Kate!

    And golly, I hope I live up to your introduction!! ;-)

    I had a thought when I read this: "It is this belief that will also forever make me sigh sadly when I think back on the cancellation of My So Called Life and how I will never know how things turned out between Angela and Jordan Catalano."

    The thought?

    That's what fanfic is for!

    I know that fanfic is kind of "less than" for a lot of writers (and I am guilty of thinking the same thing), but it can be satisfying to put your own spin on what the Actual Writers didn't write. Fixing things for the characters, if you will. :-)

  5. Hmmm... I have never tried to do fanfic. I think it would be like trying to imagine what happened to friends from high school that I've lost touch with - it would be fun to think about, but I would still always wonder what "really" happened to them.

  6. Kate, you rule. I cannot even think of The Ring without shivers and nightmares for days. Seriously. And I make my son check the closet if it's closed, but that's another story (that Sarah and Suzy know) for another day. Sadly.

    But a great post. I love how you knew your character was allergic to bees. I'm not sure I know mine that well. I'm also very worried that I won't have anything to add to the chain by the time it gets to me!

  7. So Kate, Jordan Catalano can be found on stage or MTV crooning with 30 Seconds to Mars, one of my favorite bands. And he's oh-so-pretty!
    Now for the rest. Man, y'all are good. That was awesome, and Elana does make her son check the closets and under the beds, and he's only 9. And if he's not home, then she makes the baby do it. :)
    Yeah. Great blog!!!

  8. You smartie! Great twist on the question.

    And very intriguing on the bee allergy. I, for one, am extremely UN-allergic to bees.

    When I was nine, I accidentally disturbed a hive while walking in the woods near my house. The whole swarm followed me home. I slammed the door behind me and we could hear the bees pelting the door behind me like heavy rain.

    I had dead bees in my shoes, in the cuffs of my shorts. They estimated 80-something stings at the hospital, where they watched me in the ER for several hours, certain I would have some allergic response...

    The ER doctor told me when he let me go that bees were one thing I did not need to worry about. *snort*

  9. 80 stings!!! OMG. I have not been stung even once - so I live in fear of it happening, convinced that I will end up having a horrible allergic reaction that will result in instant death.

  10. Kate-

    Love the new header. The sign post is great!


  11. "It is this belief that will also forever make me sigh sadly when I think back on the cancellation of My So Called Life and how I will never know how things turned out between Angela and Jordan Catalano."

    This is so my feeling when it comes to the cancellation of Firefly. I HAVE to know what happens to the characters, if Mal and the hooker girl hook up, if River gets less crazy, and what 'two by two, hands of blue' means! I miss it so much.

  12. Oh yeah - absolutely my characters are real! And I find if the characters in a book or a movie/tv show don't scream real to me - I quickly lose interest in them (because if I don't "feel" them, then why should I waste my time on them?)

    Love the new header btw! :)

  13. Boy you gave me a flashback with the Flintstones comment. Used to watch that show all the time.

    Nice post Thanks so much for sharing!