Best writing part: BEING the character

My favorite part of the writing  process

After all is gathered, BECOMING the character, again, if the alternation between scenes leads me to the head of a different character, is the fun part of writing.

There is a reason for the point of view switch: something important is going to happen, and this is the character who will be most affected (which is why I chose her/him to tell this part of the story). And by the time I’ve gathered all the parts of WHAT will happen in this scene (that’s the ‘extreme plotter’ part of my writing process), I now get to write the scene, the HOW and the WHY of it, from this character’s viewpoint.

I am perfectly capable of writing long parts from a single pov in both first and third person – I’ve done both. But I’ve chosen to switch between Andrew, Kary, and Bianca in Pride’s Children because, well, it fits the story, and it works for me.

The particular joy of writing third person multiple pov

But I often forget, and discover with surprise, that getting back into a different character’s pov is fun for me, the writer. You’d think I would have figured it out by now, but there are so many other parts to writing that I have to pay attention to that  I seem to forget, while intensely involved in one scene and one character’s head, that I can and will switch.

While Andrew has one pair of scenes in a row at the beginning of Pride’s Children because it is necessary (and the way a TV interview flows), Kary is the character who gets all the rest of the scenes in Book 1 where the pov doesn’t change when going to a new scene. This is necessary because, in the story, though Andrew has farther to go, Kary is much harder to change.

Motivating change in a character

And you wouldn’t believe the change if I didn’t show you the pieces, so I have no choice: I have no patience with books where a character makes a major personality change for the convenience of the author and the plot, and you’re just supposed to take it (UNwilling suspension of disbelief) so the writer can get on with the story. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my brain, a switch gets set to ‘disbelief’ and the rest of the story is now fake. I may enjoy the story – and finish reading it – but I will never read it again to savor the character or the storytelling the way I do with books which dissect the change path.

I learned this from the good ones. I was rereading Dune last night and Busman’s Honeymoon (Dorothy L. Sayers) the night before, and it seems that it doesn’t matter how many times I go back to them, I get sucked in to enjoying the character-development steps all over again. Maybe because that’s how the authors made me care about the characters in the first place – and I DO care about Paul-Muad’dib and Peter Wimsey, long dead and never real in the first place.

Becoming the character

Because getting into the skull and under the skin of a character, so I can look out through the eyes, hook into all the senses, and listen to the dialogue and thoughts, is basically the same effect I hope to elicit in a reader, an indispensable part of the process is to go back and read the last couple of scenes from the pov of this scene’s character, SKIPPING any intermediary scenes from other characters viewpoint.

It is an odd exercise, seeing the story ONLY from one character’s pov, but an oddly satisfying one as well, because by the time I get to the actual writing phase, dialogue, thought, and movement are coming back to me in the way it must be for an actor returning to an old familiar role: this is how the head moves, this the habitual tone of voice, and the words another character might use do not fit.

I told one of my readers that I’m a frustrated actor. I have neither the ability nor the stamina for theater, especially in real time.

But it’s amazing how the other characters in this story fade, once I boldly seize the controls in this one’s head – and scary how my real self becomes subsumed in the virtual one.

Reader or writer – do you feel when this happens?

Advertisements

23 thoughts on “Best writing part: BEING the character

  1. Lily White LeFevre

    I alway wonder, when a character switches like that – was it a failure atthe point of the switch, or a failure of initial set-up (ie, the author thought it was consistent bc she couldn’t see how poorly she had expressed the character’s personality/morals/etc at the beginning)? Probably my biggest fear as a writer, that i will mis-characterize early on bc i know my characters too well to present them clearly. Probably an INTJ paranoia bc i am so often misunderstood IRL by those who do not know my character well.

    Like

    Reply
    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Some characters change during the course of the story; others remain stubbornly (or resolutely) exactly who they were – in some basic parameters of their personality.

      That’s why I don’t like most thrillers, and why I like Travis McGee.

      And I like variety in my characters. And no, I’m not pandering to the masses who want one or the other. Much. Why one digs his heels in and another sees the light – that’s the story.

      Hi, Lily!

      Like

      Reply
      1. Lily White LeFevre

        Hi, Alicia! Just bc i’m not talking doesn’t mean I’m not lurking and listening 🙂

        And my comment wasnt about characters changing but rather behaving “out of character” especially to service the plot. It’s why the best foundation of a plotted/outlined story is the characters themselves.

        Also, can i say how much i love your summary of A and K? That he has farther to go but she is harder to change? What a lovely way to express that.

        Like

        Reply
        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          Hehe. If you can say that about my Andrew and Kary, you’re getting to know them well. Glad you can manage lurking – you must be so incredibly busy right now.

          Characters behaving out of character, with no proper foundation SOMEWHERE, is proof the author isn’t doing his job. I tend to quit reading at that point. It’s so easy to go back and put in a few hints that the character might have another side which comes out under stress or something.

          Like

    2. J.M. Ney-Grimm

      Probably my biggest fear as a writer, that i will mis-characterize early on bc i know my characters too well to present them clearly.

      Oh! That’s one of my big fears, too. Although it goes for more than my characters. I tend to have the story world so vividly in my head that I sometimes don’t present it clearly enough on the page. Luckily my beta readers catch me on that. But it frustrates me that I sometimes forget – or not really forget, but can’t keep straight – what is familiar to me is unfamiliar (or unknown) to my reader.

      Btw, I’m an INTJ also. Although my T and my J are both very near the middle of the scale.

      Like

      Reply
      1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

        I think I’m an INFJ – but also extremely close to the middle; more the diplomat than the great planner. Some of that may be age and experience – it’s hard to tell.

        Getting the story from you head to your reader’s head is HARD, because no other reader will have the exact same experience database.

        But you’re the only one who knows THIS story, and how to feed in the specific information needed. I always ask myself, when putting in backstory, if it’s absolutely and strictly necessary to put this in right here.

        The answer is sometimes yes – because I’m going to need readers sensitized to this 100K words later (I try to keep those to a minimum). But sometimes there is only that one conversation to get something in; then I can have a character remember the conversation (motivate the remembering, too). The more complex the story, the more of that you have to do.

        Like

        Reply
      2. Lily White LeFevre

        *waves at my fellow robot*

        i have a similar problem in that once i have been working on a story for a while i tend to think all my twists are lame and obvious and trite bc thy are TO ME at that point. If i abandon ship and come back later i am often surprised at my own quirks and wonder why i abandoned it. Sigh. Always with the finishing problem….

        Like

        Reply
        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          “all my twists are lame and obvious and trite bc thy are TO ME at that point”

          This. Exactly. Then I trust my plotting, tell myself not to worry so hard – I can always fix it later, and keep going. That’s the advantage of being an extreme plotter: that twist was put in in response to a necessary plot point. My job is then to write it as well as possible, not to question it.

          And I do the same: when I come back later, it’s fine.

          I’m too old to deviate from the plan – it’s going to be hard enough reaching the end without wasting time questioning the goal. This is the path.

          Like

        2. J.M. Ney-Grimm

          Lily, I know what you mean! 😀

          I am always so relieved when I have readers talking about how my story endings both surprise them and are immensely gratifying and completely fit what has gone before.

          The reason I’m so relieved is that by the time I’ve finished writing the story, the ending seems completely obvious to me. What I forget, is that I rarely start work on a story with a specific ending in mind. And I never know the important, significant details of the ending before I get to writing it. Often, I have to engage in some serious brainstorming in order to figure out what the ending will be, what will feel right.

          So the ending wasn’t obvious to me either before I figured it out. But I forget that fact once I have figured it out! Thank goodness for readers with kind words to say!

          Like

        3. J.M. Ney-Grimm

          Lily, do other people really liken you to a robot? Because you think things through logically and rationally when you have a decision to make? Because you prefer operating in an organized and sensible fashion?

          I haven’t encountered that, but I will admit that people who are super loosey-goosey, emotional free spirit types find me…uncongenial, shall we say. 😉

          Like

    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Yup. Frustrated actor. That’s me in a nutshell.

      But writing I can still do – it doesn’t have the quick reflexes requirement acting does.

      Villains: like creating your own train wreck – so you can watch it.

      Like

      Reply
  2. Nita Thatcher

    Getting into the character’s head, seeing everything from only that one perspective. As a writer you do what I as an actor do. Except you must get inside every single character in your book and experience their emotions. Interesting! But, I would think it very exhausting. I am always wrung out when the final curtain falls.

    Like

    Reply
    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      But writers get to play all the parts! Just not simultaneously.

      That’s why writing is so different from acting: acting is all in the moment. Everything builds to the performance, and you get one chance at it, with that audience, to make a first impression.

      Writing is an entirely different beast, especially fiction. I can’t tell you how exhausted I can be after getting a scene to finally ‘lock in’ to its final form (okay, mostly final). But it is because nothing is left on the table.

      I might be a faster writer if I stayed in one character’s head (that’s how I started – my first book was a mystery), but I love being so many people, and feeding each of them a different part of myself. Especially when I get to express the parts I usually suppress. Even they get their day in the sun.

      Like

      Reply
      1. J.M. Ney-Grimm

        Especially when I get to express the parts I usually suppress. Even they get their day in the sun.

        I loved being my villain – Mandine – in Troll-magic. She was everything that my faults would lead to, if I ever gave them full rein in my life. It was very satisfying to express that darkness without bearing the consequences. Of course, Mandine had to take the consequences, and they were nasty.

        (Mandine didn’t get a POV, but she had plenty of dialog lines in the scenes where she was present.)

        Like

        Reply
        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          She is still part of you, even if she is your rejected parts, because you can’t reject what you don’t claim first.

          I don’t think most readers realize that part: that the best villains are the ones closest to home, and justifiable to themselves. That’s another risk the writer takes: exposing the less desirable parts of the self.

          If all you do is construct a villain out of stock parts, and declare him ‘bad,’ your villain has trouble coming to life. But, ah, if you could have BEEN the villain… Then it is so much more real.

          I think that’s part of the great experience of reading, and living virtual lives, that you get to try out consequences of different choices.

          Like

        2. J.M. Ney-Grimm

          She is still part of you, even if she is your rejected parts, because you can’t reject what you don’t claim first.

          So true. I’ll always remember two moments in my life (separated by many years) when I saw my shadow side very vividly. It wasn’t anything I did, because I did not act from the shadow. I merely observed it. And just the looking scared me silly. I have excellent villain material to draw upon. 😉

          Like

  3. chrismcmullen

    I was ready to agree with you wholeheartedly. Until I remembered that I write nonfiction. One of these days, I’ll get far enough into writing a novel to enjoy that aspect of writing. 🙂

    Like

    Reply
    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      The part I didn’t expect: how much fun it is to be Andrew. Especially since I’ve made him the intuitive extrovert, and Kary the logical introvert. Mix it up a bit. So far my male readers haven’t sent me packing – and I’m very glad to have them.

      Like

      Reply

Comments welcome and valued. Thanks!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s