Strategies for Success: Your Characters are not Real
Wait, what? How could you say such a thing! I imagine my characters as real all the time! They speak to me! They know me better than I know myself! They know themselves better than I know them! And besides, how am I supposed to write my characters realistically if I don’t imagine them as fully fleshed out real people?
Well, that’s kind of the point. You IMAGINE them as real people. Look, we all try to picture our characters as real. We imagine how they look and sound, how they feel and act. You have to try to make them consistent, and act according to their character most of the time. You have to weigh how to make them act against character sometimes in a way that is compelling and impactful, not unbelievable. You have to imagine them as real in order to portray them in a realistic way.
But they are not real. All that imagining you are doing is imagining. You are their maker. You decide everything about them. If you don’t like something, you get to change it with impunity. You are the Decider of Things.
This is a good thing.
Not just because the idea of fictional characters being real people with their own agency and agenda is terrifying (or a sign of a serious illness).
Because it means that you’re in charge! You are not a helpless vessel bending to the whims of some recalcitrant entity. You are the master of this whole shebang.
So when you’re tempted to say “The character is being stubborn! They don’t want to be written about right now!” remember that that’s not true. It’s just that you’re having a hard time figuring out how you want the story to go. You can just give it some thought and push through. Side characters never “speak up and demand that their story be told!” it’s that you had a different idea that you wanted to explore for a bit. You can either decide to go with it for awhile, or table it and go back to your story. And your characters certainly aren’t going to gang up on you and forcibly take the story in a completely different direction than you intended, with you along for the ride. You just wrote it differently than you had planned, and that’s okay! You can keep with it, or make yourself go back to your outline. The former is spontaneous, which can be fun, and the latter requires discipline. Sometimes it seems like stories do take on a life of their own, what with the ways they can go that you didn’t plan. That’s cool, but it’s still what came out of your own head.
The important thing is that YOU are in control of your story. Which means that you are not helpless to change it. Keep those unexpected words! Maybe you’ll decide that your new idea is way cooler than the old one. Maybe you’ll decide that you’re going to write a whole other story about this other side character. Maybe you’ll just keep that cool idea on the back burner and turn it into your outline for next year, when you’ll wind up having ANOTHER DIFFERENT cool idea, and the whole thing repeats every year until there’s a pile of books by you on the desk!
You’re the author. You get to decide.