When characters do as they please . . .

So, I thought I was a writer . . . or becoming one, anyway. I was going to create characters and make them do things the way I wanted. Obviously I didn’t know much about writing yet.

Why do I say that?

Because your characters often do as they please. But, even more surprisingly, they can put themselves in the story when you had no such intention. In fact, you did not even know of their existence, and you most certainly didn’t ‘think them up’. Well, that was my weird experience. Especially with Jacques . . .

I was tinkering away on the opening chapters of my new book Seven Seconds, when jacquessomeone kept tapping my shoulder, creatively speaking, that is. “I wanna be in your book,” he said. I wasn’t freaked out, because strange things happen in the psyche when you decide to go on the Imagine Journey. I knew I couldn’t put him in the book, because I had three characters who were going to be trapped in a falling lift, dash through a time travel portal, and then spend most of the book in Jerusalem AD 33. So what on earth was I going to do with the tall, middle-aged fellow called Jacques? Nope, no room for him at this inn.

But he continued. The nagging became begging, crying even, and there is nothing more pitiful than a middle-aged begging man. I even heard “I don’t have a job. Please, please let me be in your book. I’ll be the night watchman of the hotel, if you want. I’ll do anything.”

Characters are smart, and Jacques is uber smart. I fell for the night watchman idea. After all, the hotel is basically a derelict building where a bunch of revellers are going to party-in 2015.

But the minute I signed him up as the night watchman for The Presidential Hotel in Seven Seconds–and I could see exactly how he was going to form an important behind the scenes character–he came with a problem. His daughter was having a baby on the evening in question, and he had to bring his five year old grandson to work. Yep, otherwise he couldn’t be in the book. He was the first person I ever employed, and he came with a lot of nonsense.

If you think I’m crazy, join the club. I’m chairman of the club. None of this happened in any way, shape or form in reality. It was all a very real figment of my imagination.

                                     So what is our imagination actually?

                                  Where do these characters come from?

                   And what makes them act intelligently apart from us?

I let Jacques have his way, and he brought Sam, the kid. Not only did Jacques endear himself and Sam to me in a few pages, and make me cry (yeah, crazy, I know), but in a flash I had the title and full story for the sequel, Asiam Soru.

I am not a very experienced (read published! writer), but I can give you one bit of advice: listen to your characters, they may know something you don’t. After all, they live in the place of make believe, where time stands still just because you closed the book, and can jump centuries with a turn of the page. Those characters live there, so surely they have some inside information that may be helpful to you.

The three questions posed above? I would appreciate your thoughts.

Write on!

 

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21 thoughts on “When characters do as they please . . .

  1. This is a fascinating post! I have also wondered about where characters come from; I usually see them at the beginning of a piece and try to figure out what is happening with them. I do not know what that says about the creative process or me!

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  2. I sometimes feel like a witness to the scene, and all I am doing it describing it as accurately as possible. The same can be said about characters. I have even made the mistake of being a bad judge of character about one I was positive I had created :-).
    Maybe there is a parallel universe (Etherland) and the people who live there want to cross over into our reality. The only way they can do it is via fiction.
    My husband says that writers are just crazy . . . I’m inclined to agree.

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  3. One of these questions would have been enough to handle, say nothing of three! You made a comment that I feel is telling to good storytelling; that you felt like a witness to the proceedings.This suggest (as I think it should be) that you are not part of the story, only the one imparting it. Our imagination on the other hand, now there is a perplexing thought. I personally feel the imagination grows from ideas, sparked from who knows where, in association with images we already have stored up there. That idea and the image combine to create something entirely new. I feel characters are little fragments of the real you anyway, but very difficult to separate into individuals. There is where the fleshing out part comes from. You have to imbue these fragments with enough personality to make them appear distinctly human on the page, and apart from the other fragments. What makes them act intelligently apart from us is what I feel is the real challenge for any writer. This conglomeration of these people are created out of bits and pieces of ourselves. I think this challenges our own honesty, our own willingness to reveal more of ourselves than we might care to, because they are actually part of who we truly are. And I think we bury them very deep inside of us. I think our own individual complexities (after all, we are not always at our best) tend to get in the way of who we would like to be, but are unable to reveal to others as they may reveal parts of our darker inner self. Maybe its because we have a hard time accepting that we are not as perfect as we’d like others to think we are. Flaws; that is what it really comes down to, and they are what make us human, different and interesting. What do you think?

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    • Scary! I think you hit the nail on the head. So what do our characters say about us? What do my characters say about me?
      Ooooh! Just thinking about a short story I recently wrote about a female serial killer. Yet she is not pieces of me in the usual sense. But the way her victims die are all wrapped up in fears that I have: drowning, decapitation, heights . . .
      You are so right, so right. As I sit here, I can think of the bits and pieces of me that are scattered throughout my characters.
      Are writers just messed up people trying to understand their messed-upness? Or is everyone messed up and writers are the only ones who dare to try and unravel the darkness in ourselves.
      Such an awesome response, thanks. You should write a serious blog on this one.

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      • Had me going there for a minute. Thank god you didn’t say (the female serial killer) she’s not pieces of me in the literal sense, I think that would really make her scary. God I have those same ghastly fears, breathing under water, losing my head, and step-ladders or possibly curbs. I believe the only thing normal about people these days is that we are all abnormal. How else could we cope with the mess this world is in. Glad you like my response, I was afraid I might scare you off getting serious, but I do that on occasions.

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  4. I have you all figured out. You are probably the most serious, dark and unfathomable blogger I have come across. Okay, there aren’t many, so relax.
    But you cover it all up with laughs. And that’s good, because then you can go away to your dark place and be okay with it. I’d love to read your real writing (No, blogging isn’t real. It’s where we all hide away and be the people we aren’t when the computer shuts down!)
    I dare you, tell me what you have written. If it’s on a market somewhere, I’ll buy it.

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  5. You have probably slipped out for coffee. But you’ll catch this later, so here goes. You know what they say about comedians, behind those laughs is a lot of sadness. But god, don’t we all have sadness in our past? But like you suggested Dorothy, the humor allows the release, or better put, a vent. A lot of humor (most of it actually) is an exaggeration of the circumstances being made lite of. And you’re right when you say blogging is not real writing, well maybe some blogs are a release. Yet I seriously (there’s that word again) doubt people truly open up in their blogs, like they might, say with a therapist. So real honesty, the brutal kind be it ugly, lovely, guilty, or secret inhibitions and lustful desires rarely, if at all, make it into a blog. And besides, you and I both know, that’s not where it belongs anyway. Now books on the other hand, now there is a place where what is hidden really hides right out in the open. The best writers go unchecked. All their romantic overtures and pent up passions. All those dark and desperate thoughts, even thoughts tinged with breathless anticipation, thoughts where nobody ever goes, except in the deep recesses of their souls, those will find their way out of your most private thoughts onto the printed page of a novel. I am curious, excited and all around mesmerized by your dare Dorothy. (Meanwhile back at the attic, nothing as thrilling as this is happening, believe me!) :O)

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  6. Finally… I didn’t think I would ever get back here to finish my thoughts on this. You had to leave and I was dividing my attention between writing, and doing some other work—and thinking about what you said. Anyway, yes I’m enthralled by the dare. I’ve wrote in the serious vane before but not under my own name, or under a pen name either (although I think that would be far more liberating), the reason being—courage. I feel a serious writer has to have a great deal of courage, because he, or she has to write openly. Everything you write has some basis in your own personal knowledge of the world. The foundation of your writing relies on fact, experience, or your only personal history, and some imagination. Then it surfaces (in some form) in your character’s and their story. Writing honestly exposes much of what you fear, feel, or dwell on, and that’s why I say it takes courage to reveal that. We’re not always proud of what we’ve done in life (bad choices, mistakes, and selfishness are just some of the reasons), or are we always comfortable with what we’ve been through. Not to say all of our backgrounds are horrible (however in some cases that may be so), and in most cases a great deal of fun has probably been had by all. Life is made up of the good and bad, but that’s living. Nevertheless, I feel to write seriously may call on you to delve into some unpleasant personal aspects of your own life. So yes I have wrote, but I’ve never attempted to publish any of it. I suspect I need this kind of affirmation (from someone who deals with writers) in order to feel my writing is really worth the effort. For that encouragement, I say thank you Dorothy. I have to tell you Dorothy, the idea that you are intrigued enough about my potential of possibly having something worth reading, really peaked my curiosity. I have to ask; am I that interesting, or what did I possibly say that suggested my potential? I have always felt that I possess poor skills in grammar, although I may have a way with words. However, I doubt that would be enough to pass the scrutiny and close inspection of a publisher, say nothing of the editor. Anyway, now its my turn to ask you, what do you think? I respect your opinion Dorothy, truly. Oh, I’m not all that dark, am I?

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    • Feels like an eternity since we were interrupted.
      Firstly, you think! Yes, I can tell that you think. It shows in your writing.
      Secondly, you care about people. More about this when I know what it means (or what I am talking about).
      Thirdly, you are dark (Why else choose an attic as a platform?).
      Fourthly, you do not need to be a grammarian to write.
      Fifthly, I can read between the lines. I have edited enough manuscripts of good and bad writers to know the difference – even when the work is unpolished. Especially when the work is unpolished.

      So quit wondering. I’m not sure I know how to write sixthly (no red squiggles – Hooha).
      You want to write, you know you can, but I think your doubts about your technical skills are holding you back. Forget the grammar rules and just write. Get it all down from beginning to end and then you worry about the small stuff. Besides, grammar rules can be taught. All the other attributes that you already have are gifts.
      Publishers? Bah!!! Watch me, I’m releasing episode one of my book on Saturday (on Amazon).
      Paul, write. You know you want to and you know you are meant to.
      The end

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      • Wow! I think I needed to hear this… and see it written down too. Thank you Dorothy! This advice will do wonders for me. I appreciate the thoughtfulness that went into your response to my question, and the reference to my attic being a dark place—I’ll try to put more lights in there as soon as I can afford solar. You’re a gem Dorothy! :O)

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      • Dorothy, I missed out last Saturday on reading the “7 Seconds” except. But I did take note of how many stars you received on your book “Under the Palm Tree” and that I found very interesting. Boy do you write! I suspect you have been as busy at work this week as I have been. So I hope you have a great weekend. :O)

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      • Are you spying on me? I am trying to quietly get my stuff out there without much ado, and then you go and spoil it. 🙂
        Thanks anyway. Under the Palm Tree was an ‘experiment’ to see how the whole Amazon deal works. I have to say that I am very impressed with the setup. You didn’t say anything about my short love story – the one with the bad review. Well, believe it or not, that silly little story is making me money. It appears that people don’t really care for reviews when they want to read something. And one bad review sells better than three good ones. I can’t figure it out. And the weirdest thing is that people are downloading The Season for Love on Kindle Unlimited, and I make four times the money I do with ordinary sales. So Amazon has been full of surprises for me.
        I have just released Episode two of 7 Seconds and I will let you know when Episode one is free again. I really need reviews, more than I need sales at this point. Sigh. I haven’t ever asked for reviews (my mother, father, aunts, uncles, children, friends, etc. have been spared the awful task of trying to say nice things about something they haven’t read).
        Under the Palm Tree is not my writing niche, so I appreciate your kind words. It is a nice book, if you’re a woman, but I think you will enjoy 7 Seconds far more.
        Today I am finishing off another short book ‘The Many Faces of Mary’ which is a look at the Biblical account of Mary Magdalene. I am setting her reputation right, just for the record. We have come to accept her as the penitent prostitute but that is baloney. She wasn’t even a prostitute to begin with. And 7 Seconds has her as a central character, whom I turn back into the prostitute, so yeah . . . I talk too much.
        Glad to hear you are also busy. Keeps one out of mischief, doesn’t it?
        Keep digging, and come up with the book you were destined to write. I know it is there.

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      • Hey, it’s my job to see what your doing, keeps you on your toes. I’ve starting thinking of a story. Want to use the people I’ve known, but in a setting they would never be caught dead in. I get the Under the Palm experiment. If you haven’t done something before you have to find out how it works. I have no idea how it works, but I might have to figure it out when the time comes. I still want to read some of your writing, may have to buy them. And I’d be happy to give a review. Yeah it got crazy busy this week. I also hit writers block, finding out writing humor can be a challenge, even for me! Good to hear from you Dorothy, trust all is well for you?

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      • I’m writing, so all is well. You’re my friend, not a gnome, so you will not have to pay. All my stuff is free on the odd occasion, and I’ll def give you the head’s up.
        Like your story idea. Will the people like it, though? Just thinking of the weird places I can put my friends in – that they would not like. (Wicked smile emerges).
        Keep writing and feel free to share any of your writing with me for a second opinion. I know how valuable those are.

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  7. At times I am merely a secretary for the cast that runs amok in my grey matter… A character may come to mind and a story evolve from that but they tend to take on a life of their own.

    “How can I know what I think till I see what I say?” E.M. Forster

    Thank you for choosing to follow one of my blogs. I hope you will continue to enjoy the posts.

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