Sometimes, I just want to walk up my MC and go
BECAUSE I LITERALLY HAVE NO IDEA WHO THIS PERSON IN MY BRAIN IS OR WHAT THEY WANT FROM ME. One day they just waltz in there, say, “Hi, I live here now,” and I proceed to scream, hug them, and wet my (imaginary) pants simultaneously… and that’s pretty much that.
Well, okay, maybe not quite. Sometimes, it isn’t that easy. Writing a character from scratch can be scary. You’re essentially creating a brand-new being out of THIN AIR, pouring your LIFE AND SOUL into it, and then setting her free into the world and letting her do whatever she wants… except you are her.
OF COURSE for us master writers, this is fantastically easy and we have no trouble morphing them into the person they want to be and using them very wisely for the purposes of our plot, RIGHT??
BECAUSE MY CHARACTER ISN’T ME.
I am a reasonable person. My characters will sometimes do some VERY STUPID THINGS. And then I have to freak out about it in my head and wonder if they should have reacted more like I do.
It’s one of the weirdest things in the world to put yourself in someone else’s shoes (namely, your character’s), and suddenly realize all of your responses are different. But then again, if my character has all the same goals as me, the same family environment, the same responses… am I not writing my own autobiography in a parallel universe?
So my characters shouldn’t be identical to me. Got it.
Having all my characters be just like me would be infinitesimally boring, for me and for everybody else having to suffer through my sorry book containing only one character with seventeen different names. (Although who wouldn’t want to read a book just about me? We all know I’m FABULOUS.)
BUT THEN, having someone in my brain 24/7 who likes completely different things is ANNOYING.
You refuse eggplant at the dinner table and suddenly all you can think about is how much you character Loves it, with a capital L. You watch a TV show and realize how much your character would yell at you if they saw you sitting around on the couch for so long. Basically, ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING YOU DO, they disagree with you. And complain to you. And you can’t shut it off because they’re living in your head.
If this seems like it’s going around in circles: it is. Because however much I want to tell you that there’s a specific formula you can follow to find the ideal character who shares just the right amount of things with you, there isn’t one. And that’s the bottom line. Every character I have in my head has at least one trait of mine. Some have more. Some have less. Some are so utterly different from me it’s uncomfortable having them in my brain.
Yes, I created my characters. Yes, I did pick their likes and dislikes. But only in the beginning. Like children, they started to grow, become their own people. I saw something, thought, Oh, Johnny would love that! and it was suddenly a part of his character. I didn’t have a choice. And maybe the same is true of people.
I know sometimes you just want to throw your characters across the room. I know, sometimes, you look at them, and then you look at a book, or a TV show, or someone else’s novel, and think they aren’t good enough, that they’re too like you, or too unlike you, or not enough this or not enough that, or something else.
But give your characters a chance. They’re people, too, you see. Even if you created them in the beginning, they grew in the end. And however different they are, you must have at least one thing in common with them. And if you can find that… well, you can get along with them, I’m sure. (Or maybe you can’t. I have no idea.) There’s a reason they are characters, and not the tips of plot bunnies left over in your head. You keep them around because however crazy they drive you… you like them.
I like the idea that your characters chose you. Maybe you started to create them, but they chose you. Like your friends. Because they thought you could write their story. So why not give it a try? You and your characters, you’re a team. Maybe you try to change them and they try to change you, but in the end… you’re partners. They must have chosen you for a reason. So trust them, let them trust you, and you’ll figure it out. Somehow.