Friday, March 17, 2017

Real characters: you love them and want to protect them, but you can't keep them safe!

Are you ever emotionally drained by writing certain scenes, and how real are your characters to you?           

Wow!  As usual we have a topic with a lot of meat on it.  
When I first began to write I heard crazy stories about a character “taking over a novel.”  Preposterous?  Maybe not.  My initial experience with this was in my first (unpublished) novel my character didn’t do what I wanted her to do; she did something else.  How is this even possible?  I’m the one sitting here keying away.
The thing is, I’m in the character’s head, not my head, and she’s doing this crazy stuff.  Can’t I stop her?  Not really.  Not if the crazy stuff is right for that character. 
How real are my characters?  Very real to me.  I get to know them from writing, that is, they don’t spring full blown into the head. But I did have novel where a character just perched on my should and started to tell me her story.  About a quarter of the way through the book, she (more or less) said, “Okay, that’s it.  Now you figure out the rest.”  Hey, wait a minute!  I had to figure out the rest.  That was dirty pool.
The thing is, we love our characters, even the bad ones, and we don’t want terrible things to happen to them. We want to keep them safe. This is not possible and not good for the story.  Stuff has to happen, frequently bad stuff.  Which gets us to being emotionally drained by writing certain scenes.
It can be hard.
In World of Mirrors, the main male character is T.K. Drummond. He is an interesting guy, mostly a decent fellow, but at one point he became a colleague and even a friend of a sadist.  Now the sadist wants T.K. to ditch his girlfriend (my main female character) and throw her to the wolves, figuratively.  T.K. is reluctant to do this. The sadist drives them to an isolated spot and starts beating the hell out of him. 
T.K. tossed the keys at Putnam, who caught them in his right hand. Putnam’s left hand still touched my neck, making me crazy with fear.

T.K. opened the car door, then he took off his glasses and handed them to me, but he looked at Putnam. "Leave her alone."

Putnam took his hand away and opened the door on his side.

I just didn't understand what was happening. "What's going on? Where are you guys going?"
T.K.’s answer was full of careless bravado. "Oh, Billy Boy is going to administer his brand of tough love."
"Can't we be civilized?" I asked as they got out of the car. "Bill, please, can't we talk? Let's talk it over. O.K.?"
The car doors slammed shut.
"No! Wait! Please!"
They disappeared into the blackness, Putnam behind T.K. Then I could only see the white pillars rising out of the greenery, and in the foreground, the gray statue of the woman pulling her dress over her head. Some insects were buzzing in the thick silent night. Then I heard the smacking sound of a fist battering flesh followed by a muffled groan.
This was hard to write, because, hey,T.K. was my guy and I didn’t like this one bit.  Seeing his bloody and bruised head was actually traumatic.  Fortunately, the girlfriend sneaked up and bashed the sadist on the head with a rock.  He didn’t die, but lived to cause trouble another day.  I was kind of sad when he did die (doing more bad stuff).    
Another scene that was hard to write is when the bad character (a woman) tried to drown my main character.  This went on for a few pages, and I felt that I was on that raft being conked on the head with a paddle during a ride through dangerous rapids.     

Up ahead the river looked quieter. I tried to shift my weight, preparing to flip over the side into the water. In the soft bottom of the raft, it took longer than I had estimated to get onto my knees.

Phyllis screamed, “Shit!” Instinct took over and I ducked. Her paddle missed my head and slapped me hard across the back, knocking the wind out of me and sending me sprawling across the bow of the raft.

“You bitch!”

 Prostrate, I clutched the lifeline rope. I felt us spinning out of control through the churning river. Phyllis grunted and swore as the raft failed to do her bidding. We were drenched by the cold spray and catapulted against a rock and held there by the river which defied its own force.
Phyllis slapped at me with her paddle again, catching the back of my head. I felt a sickening sharp pain. Saw a rainbow of colors. I clutched the lifeline in a death grip.  Cursing and grunting, she fought the water.  
When I glanced back at her, she had raised the paddle again. The river caught us in the force of its turbulence, agitating the raft in the chaotic waters. I didn’t see how I could survive much longer. 
Another emotionally draining scene.  We love our characters but we have to set them free to get into trouble. To us they are real. Pretty weird, huh?

Here are some  excellent bloggers who are discussing this topic,  Take a look!  
Victoria Chatham
Marci Baun
Margaret Fieland
A.J. Maguire
Connie Vines
Rachael Kosinski
Dr. Bob Rich htt 
Heather Haven
Beverley Bateman
Kay Sisk
Diane Bator
Helena Fairfax
Skye Taylor
Rhobin Courtright


  1. To a writer, it's not weird. LOL I'm sure to anyone else it is. That's what makes it so easy for us to band together. (Grin) Or not. We are like herding cats after all. LOL I often feel like my characters abandon me midway through the piece, but, if I'm diligent, they come back and surprise me. That's what I need to have happen now with my current WIP. They are playing hard to get.

  2. Reading your post made me realize that in many ways writing is a mental exploration for both the author and the reader. Some of the situations involving my characters make me question my own sanity. Yet I've also come to understand maybe the sanest people are writers and readers -- they explore the dark side without actually committing the crime and come to a better understanding of human urges and inevitable outcomes. Maybe that's why it is so emotionally draining.

  3. It's always amusing to see the look on people's faces when they hear we aren't in 100% control of our stories. Yes, there are some decisions that we can make, but ultimately we're following the patterns of human behavior set in front of us rather than directing it.

  4. You might not like it, but you do make bad things happen, which, of course, IS the story. Good for you.

  5. I think all of us have experienced the 'wilful' character, the one who undermines all our good intentions of writing one story and ending up with another.

  6. I was amused at how, possibly without realising it, you started describing something from your own point of view, then slipped into the character's.

    Now, that's a sure sign of a writer.


  7. True. If our characters just sat in a room and played Jenga all day, no one would buy a book. Still, even if I've written down plot points before starting, and I KNOW something bad is going to happen, I'll feel physically sick to my stomach with nerves!

  8. Loved how you relate to your characters - even the bad ones.


Your comments are always welcome!