When Characters Turn Asunder

Anyone who writes on a regular basis knows that things don’t always turn out (on paper) exactly as you see them (in your head). Somehow it’s always ten times more epic up in your noggin, even though you wrote it down exactly as it was in your mind.

And, the worst problem of all, rebellious characters!!!

You’ve been there, right? A character rebels and you’re stuck trying to explain it to a non-writer friend (or family member). You’re saying things like, “And then, they did (whatever-it-was-they-did).” And your non-writer friend? They ask the following stupid question: “Can’t you just make him/her do what you want them to?”

These well-meaning friends have obviously never written a story in their life.

Unfortunately for us, our characters are less like puppets and more like actual, living, breathing people. Sometimes they make decisions we hadn’t counted on and change the entire outcome of a story. Sometimes they do or  say something so wonderful we WISH we had come up with it first. They are always full of surprises, and we are only poor, unfortunate onlookers in their daily lives.

So, what should we do when our characters turn asunder to pillage and deprive our story of its original intent? (A fancy way of saying: “When characters are jerks and ruin your story.”) Should we do as our friends tell us and beat them into submission? Let’s take a closer look at our rebellious characters.

1 – The characters that are different than you originally thought.

This one usually isn’t too bad. The guy will be sweeter than you thought, or the girl will have an outspoken side instead of the shy, quiet girl you planned on writing. These quiet rebels are easier to deal with and usually don’t change the general storyline. It’s just really annoying.

You had planned that whole scene around how soft-spoken that girl was only to discover she’ll be yelling instead! Now you have to change how she reacts to EVERYTHING!!! Not cool, invisible friends. Not cool.

2 – The bad guy who turns out to be misunderstood.

Ugh, I hate this one! You’re going along, writing this super horrible villain and then all of a sudden… WHAM! He hits you with his entire backstory and you can’t help but feel a little sorry for him. And then, the entire rest of t he story, you feel bad when he gets beaten up, picked on, or put down.

No one knows why characters do this to us, but it’s really frustrating, right? Now you don’t know if you can kill him in the second act because he has diabolically forced you to think of him as a human being. (This is usually when you start asking yourself if he did it on purpose so you wouldn’t shoot, stab, or maim him. When voiced to unsusupecting friend/family member, they look at you like you’ve lost your marbles and leave you wondering if your villain really is THAT maniacal.)

3 – The character who is no longer anywhere near how you pictured him in your head and has now become the complete opposite of what you were going for.

Worst. Day. Ever.

It started out as any normal Tuesday. I got ready, I sat down, I pulled up my most recent short story, and I put my fingers to my keyboard. I tuned into the story playing in my head.

And suddenly two characters completely switched roles.

Picture this: I had a character who was being really mean and snooty (per the original story idea) and then I find out he’s only acting like this because he’s been hurt and he’s really a super sweet guy. He danced with the girl and everything. DANCED with her!

Same day, approximately five minutes later, I discover the nice character is super sneaky, crafty, and evil. Totally out for vengeance and a complete jerk! In a ten minute span this story went from one direction, did a screeching 180 (seriously, you could smell the rubber), and ricocheted off in the opposite direction. I’m STILL not sure what happened, but it is no longer the story I saw in my head when I started it.

So what do we DO???

Go with it. Just follow their lead. If you try to force them to be something or someone that they aren’t, your entire story will feel forced. No one wants that. We want a smooth read with surprises at all the right places. If you evil character is suddenly good and vice versa, roll with it.

“Why, yes, I did mean to do that. Genius, aren’t I?”

Once the entire thing  is done, no one will know that it wasn’t how it originally premiered in your mind. They won’t care.

I guarantee the characters in your head are laughing at you right now, aren’t they? Yep. I knew it. It’s because they know. They know that they control the story, whether we want them to or not. So, yeah, maybe they’re not who you thought they were, but who is? This is what makes them come alive on the page (or screen). This is the heartbeat of their very (fictional) existence. If we can’t talk about them like they’re real people, why would our readers?

In conclusion:

When a character turns asunder, just sit back. Relax. Let it play out. And don’t try to change them. They won’t go willingly.

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Story time! Let me know about a time when your characters completely surprised you. I want the good. I want the bad. I want the ugly. I want to KNOW!!!

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

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What Did You (Really) Say?

Ah, miscommunication. It’s the heart and soul of conflict.

I chose this topic for this week because I’ve been reading this book (The Fire In Ember by DiAnn Mills) wherein all could be solved if they would just COMMUNICATE!!! But, you know what? I love it.

So, how do we build a world around our characters where they don’t communicate perfectly? And why not have them communicate well?

Everyone has a reason to lie about something. Yes, even you. Think about it. There is always one memory, one embarrassing moment, one part of your most personal feelings that you CANNOT express, even when you need to. This often leads to miscommunication.

If our characters are to be real, then they will miscommunicate. They’ll leave things out (important things), lie to each other to cover up a painful memory. All these things lend to A) Backstory and B) Conflict.

Think on this: If you haven’t told someone an important piece of information, how can you expect them to understand your ations?

If you haven’t told someone you love them, how do you expect them to know and reciprocate your feelings?

If you (or your character) hasn’t told someone that they’re scared for their life because an evil person is chasing them down for the fun of it, HOW IS ANYONE SUPPOSED TO HELP???

People miscommunicate by NOT communicating a lot of times.

Example: Guy sees girl (or vice versa) in a situation that, to them, looks like cheating or criminal behavior. Guy/girl doesn’t go to ask the other one what happened, just assumes they were in the wrong. Relationship suffers greatly.

If that character had just asked what happened, they would have realized the guy/girl was being threatened/played/taken advantage of. And when they finally do realize this (as they should to settle the conflict), they’ll kick themselves and possibly want to go shoot someone.

As humans, our biggest strength and greatest weakness is communication. Therefore, believable characters should have both strength and weaknesses in their social and communication skills.

Some examples:

In the movie Love Comes Softly, it isn’t so much miscommunication as it is failed communication. Marty doesn’t want to leave, but she doesn’t want to stay if Clark doesn’t want her, so she leaves a note in his Bible that doesn’t end up in front of his face. Because it was a stupid idea to slide the note into the book where it can (and did) fall out, Marty thinks he doesn’t want her. SO not the case!

In The Fire In Ember (DiAnn Mills, copyright 2011) the main character has been fed lies all her life. She’s too scared to really communicate why and she doesn’t think she’s worthy of anything. So, instead of telling people what she knows and getting help, she clams up.

A lot of stories depend on miscommunication to run longer than twenty minutes (for movies) or 50 pages (for books). Without something to figure out, we’d have no conflict. And we all know we LOVE conflict. We love watching the characters duke it out or shout it out and we love to see the bad guy get beat. (Except in the rare cases involving fandoms with crazy people who think the villain should have won.)

So, miscommunication. Use it. Love it. Keep it close.

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

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The Villainous Dance of Villainy!

I guarantee not many of you will catch the reference in the title, but it makes me smile, so I’m going to use it. It also fits with what we’re going to talk about today. Did you guess what it is? Yep, that’s right. We’re going to talk about VILLAINS!!! For those extraordinary people who prefer the term “antagonist”, it’s the same thing. The bad guy.

When I say “villain”, I guarantee everyone’s mind goes somewhere different. For some, maybe it’s Moriarty from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series. For others, it may be a comic book character. For the majority of the crazy world out there, they probably instantly think “Disney”. Whatever it is that sparked in your head when I said “villain”, hang on to it. That is probably the bad guy (or girl) you love to hate, and we’re going to plunge ahead and talk about creating them.

But first, a random villainous quote from… a movie we should all recognize:

“I’ll get you, my pretty! And your little dog, too!”

Chills.

Anywho, the first thing I want to say about villains is that — even though they’re usually terribly evil — They tend to be pretty awesome. And, without them, we wouldn’t even have the books and movies we love so much. So, snaps for the villains!

(This is where you snap, it’s like clapping, only quieter)

I think one of the most important things that villains do is TALK! I mean, come on, who hasn’t looked at the page or screen and thrown up their hands and demanded “Quit monologuing, you idiot! This is how they always beat you!”

However, I’m more concerned with opening lines. (The good guy is supposed to beat the villain, so their monologuing doesn’t always concern me, just usually.) Okay, let’s run the reel for opening lines.

Professor James Moriarty (The Final Problem)

“You have less frontal development than I would have expected. It is a dangerous habit to finger loaded firearms in the pocket of one’s dressing-gown.”

Cruella De Vil (101 Dalmatians)

“Anita, darling!”

“How have you been?”

“Miserable, darling, just miserable.”

A villain’s opening words say a lot about what they are or what they are not. Many times, a villain’s opening words are quirky and offbeat, like Moriarty. Other times a villain feigns compassion, but you can always tell.

I put a lot of thought into the first words my villains say, because I want them to be memorable. I also want to immediately show the reader/watcher something about the heart of this character. Whether they’re motivated by selfishness, greed, lost love, or miscommunication, I like to clue the reader/watcher in on this.

Point #2 on villains–

WAIT! Another random villainous quote, from the movie Tangled:

“Mother’s feeling a bit… tired. Would you sing for me?”

That irksome woman.

Okay, Point #2!

Villains are dramatic, it’s in their nature (usually because they’re pretty narcissistic). So, aside from the obvious drama queen situations going on elsewhere, they need a grand entrance. They’re entrance introduces them for you, it shows the reader/watcher that “hey, this is the guy/girl to watch out for”.

My most recent villain entrance was simple, yet fully dramatic. The guy entered via a porch, silhouetted in the doorway. Effective, because then you can reveal him slowly.

My favorite movie villain entrance is probably the guy from the first Sherlock Holmes movie (starring Jude Law and Robert Downey Junior). They waste no time in letting you know that this guy is clinical. Creepy, but awesome.

More great movie villain entrances:

The Avengers

The Chronicles of Narnia: Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe

The Losers

National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets

Taken

There are others, but those are the good ones off the top of my head. Also, pretty much every Marvel movie ever. They’re really good at villain entrances.

Point #3

Take your time to flesh out your villain. Villains are humans, too (usually). They have weaknesses. They have feelings. They relate to people. Villains aren’t always monsters, sometimes they’re just misunderstood. They can be nice to certain people and evil to others. They can have normal lives outside of their day jobs. (The day job, of course, being villainy).

Random Villainous Quote! From Larryboy: The Good, The Bad, and The Eggly

“Maybe it’s diamonds, or rubies… or a fondue set! I love fondue.”

Your villain deserves just as much thought as your hero, and giving him feelings an quirks can actually make him likable. Yes, I said it. A likable villain. It sounds like an oxymoron, but really it’s not. If people dislike him too much, they may put down your writing. And no one wants that.

So, whatever direction you decide to take your villain, or whatever direction your villain takes you, remember to think before you publish. How do they walk, talk? What’s their backstory? How did they get to the point where villainy was their only choice? Or do they enjoy it?

Let me know about your most villainous villains in the comments below, or use the Contact page to email me directly!

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

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The Art of Illusion

You’ll hear me talk A LOT about how much more powerful it is to elude to something than to tell it straight out. To me, it’s almost as important as “Show, Don’t Tell” and quite honestly it’s probably technically covered in that statement. However, it seems some people just don’t quite get it. So let’s expound.

“The closer you look, the less you’ll see” is the theme of a fun little movie called Now You See Me. Most magicians use this trick. Why? Because it works. Magic is all about the art of illusion, and how do people refer to the best books and movies?

“It was magical.”

So let’s take the magician’s theme and apply it to ourselves, writers. There are several different things that demand a “far away” look when we’re writing. I’ll break them down for you and explain what I mean by “far away look”.

#1 – Character descriptions.

You know you’ve read an over expository character description before. “She had hair like… and eyes like… her teeth were… and her ears… don’t forget her hands… did I mention the exact clothes she was wearing?…” And suddenly we feel trapped inside a box. That’s not AT ALL how we pictured her (whoever she is).

When I write, I tend to give one or two traits of my character and leave the rest up to imagination. I’ve found I like this from other authors, which is why I try to follow their lead in my own writing. For example: my character Rosie Callahan, I only told the reader 2 things about her physical appearance. She’s 5’2″ and she has curly hair. I left the rest up to them.

I think you’ll find that if you stick to the important things about the character, like how they react to others and what kind of speech patterns they use, people will fill in the physical description without much help.

#2 – Back Story

I’m not saying don’t tell people what happened in the past, I’m saying expose it slowly. Have the character say something or do something that ELUDES to their backstory. They had a convict dad?

“I won’t be like him.”

Simple as that. And, yes, I’ve used that one. Another one I’ve used: The girl has a history of people leaving her without a word.

“Just… don’t leave without saying goodbye. Okay?”

Think through what your characters are doing. They deserve the thought it takes to weave their backstory in and out through their actions and words.

TIP: you have a backstory too, but you don’t tell everyone you meet. Everything that happened in the past is your backstory, and it reflects itself in what you do and say now, but not in an expository way. It is what it is, and nothing more. You don’t make a big deal about it. So why do your characters whine on and on about their past?

#3 – Relationships

This REALLY goes along with “Show, Don’t Tell”. The best advice I ever received on this subject was “loving someone means never having to say I love you.” SHOW that your characters love each other, or hate each other, or have known each other for a long time by what they do and say.

This all goes back to illusion. With vague answers and short flashes into the backstory, you’re giving the illusion of a full life behind the character, which in turn brings them to life. Why go into all that exposition when you can achieve the same thing by a simple flick of the wrist?

Remember, the closer you look, the less you’ll see.

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

It was good to have you as a visitor today! Please drop by again, or become family by following the Write Knowledge. Thank You.