Character rising

This is an interesting blog entry on what the writer calls “Self-rising characters”–characters who weren’t in the original outline or conception of a story, or who were but were minor at best, who become (spontaneously) fully realized as you are writing because the story needed them, or at the very least, they were a voice inside you somewhere that needed to speak:

Practical Meerkat Returns: On Self-Rising Characters

I never thought of these characters as being a Mary Sue danger, however. And as the author points out, we use that expression way too much and too lazily. There are very few characters labelled ‘Mary Sues’ that actually are one by the actual definition, and sometimes, even if they ARE one, so what? Sometimes, that’s the whole point of the story/character.

But that’s a digression. I have always seen self-rising characters as awesome, because they come from that “Shut up and let the subconscious do the driving” place where your story actually lives. This is why I am a pantser, at least during the first draft, and find outlines so antithetical. The story I really want to tell, and the characters that really need to inhabit it, are locked in a vault on the right side of my brain I can’t access during the very left-brained, top-down, before-hand outlining process.

The main character of my first novel, Valerie, was a self-rising character, stepping out from a cast of a dozen names and descriptions to take over the story and make it her own.

In my new story, I had a young man appear out of nowhere to become a love interest of sorts for one of my main characters, who was supposed to eventually get involved with another guy–a guy who as the story evolved developed no chemistry whatsoever with her.

Self-rising Young Man didn’t appear spontaneously in the story in order to be a love interest, he entered the story to spy on Ms. Main Character, which he did by seducing her. And then they sort of fell for each other. And doesn’t love/lust/hate always read more convincingly when it isn’t forced on a character?

Original fiction project – week of 9/04/2011

Dis/inhibition: Still working on final edits. It’s going slower than I thought it would, and that’s frustrating. Especially after having an editor go through it and clean it up. I’m probably adding in new missing/misused words and awkward sentences after she cleaned up all the old ones. As for the artist doing website artwork, we are halfway done already. Cute little illustrations of my characters come to life.

New story: I love it when you start a chapter intending it to work one way, and it ends up playing out in a way you didn’t plan, but gets the job done all the same. One difficulty I’ve been having with this new story is that I have these spirit being characters who I can’t really show in all their detail, nor feature as point of view characters, because that gives away too much of the unfolding mystery. And yet I still want to “show” their activity behind the scenes in the story. Finding clever ways to manage that has forced me to write each new chapter in creative ways, which is resulting, I think, in chapters that are a lot more interesting than they would have been.

It’s the middle of September now (how?!), which means it’s time to start making NaNoWriMo plans. My plan is to belt out 50,000 words of this story, which is currently in chapter 6. It will be a disjointed mess come December 1st, but then I can clean it all up and be much further along than I would have otherwise been polishing off each chapter one at a time.

NaNoWriMo Day 16

New words: 1,702
Total words: 30,920
Goal: 50,000

30920 / 50000

NaNo notes: I sometimes wonder what people must make of my entries on writing, assuming they make anything of them at all. I must appear to have the most convoluted writing process ever. I can’t just do as other writers/NaNoers seem to do, say, “I have this idea for a story…” and then sit down to write it, challenged by coming up with good characters and plot to fit my idea. That is such a logical, top-down, blueprint-for-a-forest approach. No, I have no forest blueprint, no idea for a novel, I have only this urge to write that needs an outlet, and no idea what I want to say.

I must simply start planting trees willy-nilly, trees and rocks and random deers and other things one might find in a forest, then test my feelings about each of them and eliminate the things I don’t like, then generate some more. Eventually, a forest will emerge, and it will have some sort of theme/story to tell/thing to say that was buried deep in my subconscious in a way I have no direct access to.

Or if you prefer another metaphor, writing for me is like an archeological excavation. A Neolithic archeological excavation. I have to pull my story up out of the ground, piece by piece, and be able to tell the difference between stone tools and plain old stones that can be tossed away. After many years, I might have a story/ancient dwelling site. Or I may end up with a pile of rocks.

“What do you want to write about?”

“I don’t know. I’ll figure that out after I write it.”

That about sums it up.

NaNoWriMo Day 12

New words: 1,928
Total words: 23,889
Goal: 50,000

23889 / 50000

Quote-worthy snippet:

And when she came down, when she had her mind back, when things weren’t torment, restlessness licking like flame under her feet, crawling under her skin, buzzing in her head, not leaving her alone, she could see the havoc she’d wrought, and feel only supreme helplessness to stop it.

Because all the medications in the world couldn’t stop it–not the ones the so-called ‘professionals’ gave her, and not the ones she found herself.

NaNo notes: Well, it’s finally happened. I’ve marinated in the story this month long enough for words to come to me spontaneously *after* I’ve shut down the computer and closed the laptop and wandered away from my chair. Yesterday morning, I scribbled some stuff on a notepad at work soon after I arrived there, just because my laptop wasn’t up and running quite yet. Then, yesterday evening as I crawled into bed, another scene (dialogue, it’s almost always dialogue) played out in my head, forcing me to head back out to my writing chair, find a paper pad, and scribble it all down before sleep took most of it away. Sure enough, this morning, I’d forgotten I even wrote it, and only went looking for that pad as fatigue made me cringe in despair at the thought of having to feed the damned word count today. But my hastily scribbled bits could be typed into the computer and expanded on. A lot. I do really write too much. Which makes NaNo a Big Giant Enabler.

But honestly, writing stuff that isn’t pure crap is hard. It’s really hard. So you take those moments when the quality is effortlessness as a gift, because they come from a part of your brain that won’t perform on demand and that is much more intuitive and in touch with what you want to say.

Original fiction project – week of 04/11/2010

Another big-picture planning week, in which I tried my hand at something that I am not as good at as I’d like to think I am: plotting. Plots are important. Plots make the story. How many great premises with great characters end up suxx0ring due to weak plots? Too many to count, as we all know.

As I well know. And yet, I have difficulty with plots, one of the most obvious being that when I’m writing the first draft of a story, I don’t want to know what’s going to happen next. I want it to “come to me”, and then I write it, and then wait again.

And before anyone starts wagging a finger at me for this, let me just say that this has been successful for me. This is not a pie-in-the-sky style of writing for me. The plain fact is, my right brain has better ideas than my left brain. My left brain is the top-down, before-hand plotting organizer, my right brain is the “let me stew on that, and I’ll get back to you when you’re in the shower covered in soap.” And almost invariably, the ideas I set out before hand are not as good as the stew-and-soap ones, because those come from somewhere deeper, the part of me that actual yearns to write.So I’ve always written this way, at least during the years when actual words got written, as opposed to the years where I just planned out stories and never wrote them.

So there’s that. The other thing is, when I sit down to draw out a general outline, a fuzzy watercolor version of my story, I can never think of anything. I do my best, but….

One of the things that was helpful to me when I was working on The Destroyer, where story-telling with an active audience demanded I have some CLUE where I was going, was to borrow from the classics in plotting out a seasonal arc. Season 1 of The Destroyer, for example, was a retelling of the myth of Odysseus, except from Telemachus’ (Connor’s) POV, rather than Odysseus (Angel). The bad guys of the season–Penelope’s (Faith’s) “suitors”–were demons trying to take over L.A. in Angel’s absence, which I renamed the Syndicate. Having the basic outline of Telemachus’ attempt to find his lost father and Penelope’s struggle against the Suitors gave me the basic idea for the season, including its climax, and the details could be made up by me as I went along, which worked well.

Similarly, season 2 was based on Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey, and I used the different phases of that journey to plot out various episodes.

I picked the stories I picked for those two seasons based on what I wanted to go with Connor. In season 1, I needed him to fully reconcile and develop a relationship with his father. And I did that by giving him a mission to find his lost father, who was in hell after the battle in the alley in NFA. In season 2, I needed to turn a young man who was still traumatized by his early years and overly-enamored with “being normal” (as a result of his implanted memories) into a hero.

So I am doing something similar with my original characters. Figuring out who they are and what their basic situation is was something I had to do through writing. I wrote as much as could of the actual story before it stalled out due to a lack of a plot, and now I am revisiting the stories that I love, seeing if I can borrow from them to give an actual spine to character journeys I am writing now.

Shut up and let the subconscious do the driving

Not quite as much writing this week due to being out of town over the weekend, and then having to stop and mull over “what should happen next.” Although I have lots of story ideas for my various characters, I still have to decide what, if any of it, I should use, and I took a couple of mornings out this week to mull.

I’ve gotten far enough into the story now that I’ve settled on about four point-of-view characters and don’t feel the need to jump into the point of view of every character like I did when I was first starting out. So I’ve been alternating between the four, writing a scene for each which advances their story. Early on in the week, though, I finished up a round of scenes and realized I wasn’t sure what should happen next to my main character. I’m kind of “meh” on the stuff I outlined.

So I spent a couple days going through all the material I had on the characters, picking out what’s next for each of them. One scene ahead is as far ahead as I really want to think here. Which leads to a more rambly, meandering first draft admittedly, but I think, in the end, a much better story than one I could have outlined in advance. The best ideas occur to me spontaneously, and I have to give them the time and space to do so. I came up with a lot of good ideas in the past year that way, but I have to allow that there might still be something better buried in my brain.

One thing I do know is, the actual act of writing, getting into the real details of character and plot, can often prove the ideas you had ahead of time are just not workable. And if you have this whole outline based on those ideas and have to ditch it, that work is suddenly moots-ville.

I tried outlining ahead of time, I really did. But in the end, that’s not how my brain works.