Monday, September 29, 2008

Learning From Your Characters

Ellie, the main character in my novel Bliss Lake, is like me in a lot of ways. Part of her personality, like mine, is a self-conscious awkwardness. She can be so painfully aware of herself and a moment she's in, especially when she's face-to-face with someone, that she trips up. She'll say something that comes out wrong, even when she means well, or it just won't make sense at all. And it completely embarrasses her.

But there are also instances when Ellie is cool and smooth. She knows just what to say at the right time, when her interactions with people are fluid and warm.

We all know people who are this way; people who are completely at ease with themselves, who don't have to figure out what they're going to say, to get it just right. But even when Ellie comes off like this type of person, I've typically struggled over her dialogue. I've pounded her words out until the phrasing and connotation are just right, so that they appear effortless and focused paper.

Real life, real conversation, isn't that way for me. I can't edit as I go. I have only so few seconds to think on my feet, and can become easily flustered. It's mortifying. But the process of creating Ellie's character and writing her tendencies has helped me with my own. I've learned how to better think on the fly, to intuit what needs to be said and how. It's like I've somehow absorbed that part of Ellie's calm, as if by some writer's osmosis.

And that means Ellie has taught me something. I think that's pretty cool.

Have you ever learned something - or picked up a habit, perspective, etc., - from a character you've written? What was it?

16 comments:

Turkey Lurkey said...

The ability to remain calm during times of great adversity. :)

aaroncrocco said...

I think that our characters are reflections of ourselves and there is always a small piece of us in them. So far, I've worked the opposite, showing my MC that it's okay to be scared and fear, like everything else, does pass.

Joanne said...

It's nice that writing helps us grow as people. I've found in talking, like you, a change. My self-editing has me saying what I need to say in fewer words. I guess we can't separate the writer from the person.

Janna Qualman said...

That's a good one, Turkey.

Aaron, I think that's awesome how the writer and character can interweave like that.

Joanne - You've said that so well! I've noticed the same thing... most things I've learned to apply toward my writing have been flowing over into my speech.

WendyCinNYC said...

At the beginning of my book, my MC is a pleaser, always wanting to keep the peace. By the end, she's more like me. Not hugely outspoken, but more willing to stand up for herself. Maybe we have learned a bit from each other.

Melanie Avila said...

I've noticed a change in how I talk since writing my novel. Fortunately I don't talk like my MC (he's got a Spanish accent and his grammar no is so good) but the self-editing of my thoughts has increased. I also get more frustrated with myself when my grammar isn't always spot on.

Janet said...

Very, very interesting.

I can't think of anything I've learned from my characters, but I have definitely become much more sensitive to wordiness, both my own and other people's. It's one of my major failings as a writer, but fortunately a fixable one.

Pink Ink said...

My main character, Juzliza, makes me glad I'm done with the angst of teenagehood :-).

Although it is fun to relive it...

Angie Ledbetter said...

Several of the MCs in my fiction novel are intuitive; seem to grasp meaning out of the very air. I wonder if "they" are influencing me, or I them? Either way, it's a nice relationship.

Rachel Burton said...

Enjoyed this, though I don't have an example nearly as profound to share since my MC is a fourteen-year-old boy. But he has made me draw on my memories of teenage breakdowns...

colbymarshall said...

my characters always seem to reflect something about me, and sometimes it makes me realize that things I do or say come off a certain way to other people, because that's how my character comes off to me.

Terra Chandler said...

I think I most relate to one of my minor characters actually, and my main character is just who I would like to be. My minor character is kind of dorky, but with huge self-esteem. I think I am kinda like that. I really believe in myself, but I think I may come off as a no-it all nerd. Perhaps I am learning to be more cool from my main character? (My friends may argue against that theory...)

Joshua said...

note to self: write a story about a man with superpowers and is a chick magnet


soon.........soon Janna :)

Janet said...

Joshua, that is a hoot!

Janna Qualman said...

Goferit, Josh. ;)

ROFL

Terri Tiffany said...

I discovered with some first edits that my character was coming across a little hard-- and I got to wondering if I was that way at times as she had some of my characteristics and I found myself evaluating myself as well as I softened her up some!