So, my husband Richard asked me the other day to explain how I come up with my characters. I told him I drink a lot of coffee and then I flail about at random, and poof! A character falls out. He expressed, shall we say, a degree of skepticism and I had to ask him exactly how long he’s known me and why, in that case, did he think I was kidding?
What can I say? We’re an old married couple.
But in all seriousness, it’s not quite that random. Well, it is, but it isn’t. I mean, I drink a lot of coffee. I drink enough that I really should cut back if I want to not die of heart palpitations. But to use the NaNoWriMo lingo (because I like it) I am not much of a Planner. I wish I was. I really want to be, but I have never found a method that works well for me for more than ten minutes. I’ll start out planning out my plot, and doing my Very Important Research and what have you, and honestly I’m at a complete standstill in a matter of moments. It’s like turning off the faucet: the flow just stops.
But on the other hand, flying entirely by the seat of my pants makes me feel a little nauseous. It’s terrifying not knowing where I’m going or what I’m doing. I hate the feeling of instability, but at the same time I really do seem to work better when there’s the element of surprise there. I’m not really joking when I tell people that my characters are making me crazy in one way or another. I have actually had a long chat with Michael while I was lounging around watching my son play in the backyard. (He asked me to explain human children to him and I had to tell him that he’d be sorely disappointed if he thought I had any idea of what I was doing as a parent.)
It’s not a new idea, really. There’s books about this very subject. There’s movies about characters popping out of the story and taking over. I’m pretty sure there’s video games about it. The point really is that once a character pops into my head, it’s a lot like meeting a new person at a party. They tell me about themselves rather than the other way around.
Now, that all said, I still boss them around pretty hard. I put them into situations and make them do stuff they don’t necessarily like. And it doesn’t always go my way. I will need a character— Michael for example, since he’s the one that’s out there for you to meet so far— to do something like save May from a random attack in the park so that I can get the plot rolling. All well and good, but Michael doesn’t always like to play nicely by my rules. He felt that snapping the guy’s neck in front of all those random innocent bystanders would A: be too easy a solution for the situation and B: wasn’t really his style these days. He’s not so much a brutally-kill-the-humans kinda demon anymore.
Well that sounded fair, so I asked him what he’d do instead, and he pointed out exactly what he would do and I pointed out how badly that was likely to end, and we had a little back and forth on the subject, and well. We both got what we wanted in the end: I got my plot rolling, and he got to take his appropriate actions. I hope you all enjoy the gory aftermath when I reveal it in the coming months.
So I am (again using the NaNoWriMo lingo) a Plantser. I have a vague idea of where I want to end up, and a few landmarks I want to see on my way there, but then I let my characters have fairly free rein from there on. Because to me, my characters are somewhat more than imaginary friends, and slightly less governed by Real Life, which gives us all an awful lot of room to play.