Characters and Their Stories

calvin-writing
When I’m pantsing my writing…which I’m trying not to do this time out.

I supposed you could call my preferred style of prose ‘character-driven’.  The way I often create stories is to put characters in a scene and try to figure out how they react — to the situation, as well as to those around them.  This reaction often drives where I’ll go with the plot next.

Noted: it’s not as if I let them run rampant in the scene to the point where I have no idea what comes next until I get there.  I just have them going from Plot Point A to Plot Point B and I pay attention to their movements and emotions.  There’s a few reasons I do it this way:

–The character is always evolving.  One of my worst errors in a lot of my early attempts at writing was that the characters had style, but they were static; they never changed.  And when they did, it felt forced.  I don’t always expect each one to change completely and irrevocably…more that I just want them to evolve in some way.

–I pay attention to how they interact with other characters and use that as part of their evolution.  A good example is Christine Gorecki from my trilogy: originally she was a one-off character, but her initial single walk-on part with Sheila and Nick worked so well that I had to expand her role considerably.  She was obviously well-loved by all the main characters that she needed an important role as well as her own personal story.

–Quite often, the interaction between the various characters gives me more background, more grist for the mill.  One character’s personality will irritate the hell out of his brother after a while, which in turn gives me a subplot dealing with the two brothers not talking to each other for a year, which in turn gives me a scene where they have to sit in the same room and talk to each other and behave.

In a way, my writing process is a mash-up of half-pantsing and half-outlining.  I have a solid (if vague) idea of where the story is supposed to head.  Lately I’ve been calling that the backbone or the spine of the story.  But I keep the movement of the story fluid, keeping it open for change and unexpected inspiration.

In the process, any major arcs in the story feel less action-driven and more personal.  The action moments end up being there for a reason; it’s less about playing plot point bingo or trying to Save the Cat and more about how life puts unexpected hurdles in our path, and how we respond to that.  Personally, I find that a MUCH more fulfilling story.

3 thoughts on “Characters and Their Stories”

  1. I’ve always been a pantser – letting my characters lead me where they want to go. There were times that worked for me because readers felt a connection to the characters I created. And there were times I hit a wall and the writing trailed off and I didn’t know where to go. I’m trying to do some plotting with my current novel, but I find a combination of the two works. An outline is like a blueprint and then your character comes in and moves a wall or decides there should be another bedroom on the second floor or that you need another skylight or twenty. I think it’s good and organic to let your characters develop themselves in some ways, but as far as plot-points in a larger work, it makes sense to have a blueprint.

    Thanks for the great post!

    1. You’re welcome! 🙂
      I’ll be honest, I had all the fun taken out of outlining back in high school, when my english and history teachers swore by them to the point of manic obsession. At that point I found them more constricting than helpful, so I vowed to be a pantser. Suffice it to say, when I started taking my writing a hell of a lot more seriously, I thought maybe I should swallow my nonconformist pride and realize outlines aren’t so bad. 😉

      1. Oh God, I remember getting a D in English class in High school because I refused to make notecards and outlines and all that stuff they wanted before the big paper. Haha. I’m coming back around to it too 🙂

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