Monday, February 20, 2012

Your Character's Journey - Not Yours

Most of the conversations I have with new writers are about how they might best go about writing stories without feeling guilt as far as, 1) the story actually being similar to their own lives and the people who know it's based on truth being upset, 2) worrying that readers will assume it really happened to them, even if it didn't. The key word is worry.

Worry, doubt, guilt - these feelings will get in the way of your writing and keep you from creating three-dimensional characters. It will keep you from entertaining readers - and the key is to entertain them, not worry about what they will think of you. I always say, "What you think of me is none of my business," which is the title of a book by Terry Cole-Whittaker. I don't mean that in a negative way as in I don't care what you think, but I use that term to say that I cannot worry about your judgement of me, and still be a writer. Therefore, I shed all of that before I sit down to write. I write the character's story from their world, not mine - the actions, thoughts, failures, ideas, successes, addictions, fears, flaws, evils, beliefs, hurts, dysfunctions, disorders - not mine. If I did all the things my characters did - I'd be dead!

A vivid imagination is why we are fiction writers in the first place. We get paid to make things up, so get to makin'. I do think an author's maturity level and life experiences can enrich a story, but you cannot be afraid to "go there" and worry about a certain action being something you'd never do. It's not about you - it's about your characters.

For authors who are conflicted over writing about abuse or murder or sex or whatever - be true to the story. Let your characters surprise even you! I've learned to step aside and not judge. Write your heart out because you know the characters well enough to begin their journey (create a character resume and storyboard w/their photos and neighborhood and workplace, etc.). Take them where they need to be, not where you dare not go. Be brave and be bold. I doubt that Stephen King, after selling 350 million copies, is worried about comparing his own life to the lives of the serial killers and creatures he creates.

Writing is not for the faint of heart. Readers will always have something to say, good or bad. You can't please everybody, so don't even try. You will drive yourself crazy if you doubt the right of the characters to be who they are. You created them. So let them be. I do think we share some responsibility in not glamorizing certain actions, but truly, there is no idea or action you could come up with that hasn't been done before in real life. A book without flawed characters is doomed from the beginning - characters must have issues and a goal with obstacles, which creates the conflict.

The thing is to not limit your characters by your boundaries - yes, if you don't want to curse or show certain scenes or abuses that cross the line of your level of integrity and morality for books that have your name on them, by all means honor those aspects before you start writing, and don't go there or don't go into detail - it also depends on the boundaries of the genre. But respect and allow a character to go out of their own bounds. Let them deal with it. And then when it's over, share it with the world, knowing you did your characters proud. Make them unforgettable.

Use your imagination - you are a storyteller, so tell the story. You are creative, so create. You are good enough, you are smart enough, you are a writer!

Write without fear. Don't doubt yourself. It's their journey, not yours!


Charles Gramlich said...

I have to grin because this is almost NEVER my problem. When you set stories on alien worlds it helps, I guess. :)

Liane Spicer said...

I've been guilty of all the above, and had a friend assume that the story was about me. *eyeroll* I don't worry about that stuff any more.

G. B. Miller said...

When I first started this writing journey, the stories that I wrote featured characters that were just a shade too identifiable.

After dealing with a year's worth of questions, innuendos and sly accusations, I pledged never to go through that kind of headache ever again.

And, I haven't.