Seriously. Great parenting can be a model for great authoring. This post is all about why that is, and how to get the most from your characters.
THE CENTER OF ATTENTION
Have you ever lived in a household during, or heard horror stories about, the adjustment period a toddler goes through when a sibling arrives? Why is this?
Simple: toddlers enjoy, and are used to being, the center of attention for vast periods of time. When baby brother or sister comes, that changes all at once, and a toddler is hurt, confused, and angered by the new addition’s impact on his or her life.
No matter how much you try to prepare a toddler for what a new baby in the house will mean, they’re too young to grasp that. They can’t yet comprehend that the world at large is larger than their world.
In their world, they’re kings. Their worlds revolve around themselves: their needs, their fears, their desires.
WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH CHARACTERS?
Stephen King talks a lot in “On Writing” about how every character considers himself the main character.
No matter what world you’re writing about or what story you’re telling, the fact is, each of your characters will consider himself, to some extent, the major player. The most interesting and most important aspect of things.
Each character judges the story to be about him, no matter who your protagonist is. In that sense, who your protagonist is is irrelevant.
RULES ON DEALING WITH UNRULY CHARACTERS
Sometimes, you want to make a character behave the way you want him to. And that’s tricky, because you can’t force a character to do something against his or her will–anymore than you can make your two-year-old sit quietly during meals or fall asleep instead of screaming at the top of his lungs at nap time.
What you can do is make a few concessions, employ some give and take, and come to some kind of consensus with your character.
When you’re dealing, then, with an unruly and unwieldy character, consider handling the situation how you would handle a toddler by doing the following:
- Time out. If a character being true to himself is ruining a scene for you, take him out of it. This can be the perfect solution: make him be somewhere, concerned with other things.
- Force a change of scene. All parents learn quickly which situations tire out, overstimulate, and otherwise strain their children. When a character is messing up a scene, maybe you can change the “background” in some way to accommodate him and make him calm down. Place him in a more comfortable situation, one less likely to instigate trouble from his corner.
- Distract the character. Give the troublesome character something else to focus on. Could placing the scene elsewhere in your novel (i.e., at a different moment in the development of the overall plot) help? Could creating, advancing, or mentioning a subplot that involves the character in question make a difference?
- Bring that child back to the hospital and get a new one. Okay, okay, so that’s not exactly a legitimate fix for the terrible twos. It is for your characters, though. Change gender. Change occupation. Change ethnicity or culture. Give the character a kid, or otherwise change his life situation in a way that might shape his outlook on life to be a little more in line with what you need it to be.
Have you ever seen the movie “Alex and Emma?” Alex is an author. One particular character in the novel he’s drafting goes from being Swedish to being all kinds of ethnicities before Alex realizes she needs to be American instead of a comic relief stock character, so that his protagonist might fall in love with her and he can introduce a love triangle.
Have you ever been at odds with a character? What do you think of that kind of a situation, and how would you, or did you, consider addressing it?
If you liked this post, you might enjoy the other posts in the category “On Character Development.”
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