Today I want to talk about changing your characters: not learning more about them, or helping them develop throughout the course of your novel, but really making your characters–whether protagonists or more minor players–different people.
This is something authors can, and often do, though I’ve never done it.
The idea for this post came from my post last week about the movie “Alex and Emma” and creating your plot as you write it. In the movie, Author Alex writes a novel without an outline. One character changes ethnicity three or four times before Alex realizes she should be an American, not a foreigner living in New York.
There are so many ways to give a character a major upheaval:
- You can combine two characters into one.
- You can change a character’s gender.
- You can change a character’s occupation and/or major hobbies.
- You can change a character’s religious beliefs (or lack thereof).
- You can give a character a different ethnicity (like Alex does).
MAJOR CHANGES AND WRITER’S BLOCK
In “Alex and Emma,” Alex needs to make his au pair character an American because the plot of his romance novel is stuck.
He needs to make her a rival love interest for his protagonist. Through all of her different ethnicities, the foreigner au pair was a stock character, and a bit goofy and humorous in a stereotypical way, but not someone Adam (the protagonist) could fall for.
(Stock characters are always a bit dangerous to rely upon, as Alex learned and you can read about here.)
The author realized he needed Adam to fall for this woman. Therefore, she needed to be someone Adam could believably fall for. She needed to be a simple, quiet American girl.
The movie–and Alex’s novel–aren’t very good. But I think his strategy of breaking through writer’s block is interesting because it’s so different from mine.
I would have introduced a new character as a love interest. If necessary, while editing the novel I would have edited in earlier appearances of this new character, introducing her before the middle of the novel.
That’s my writing process. I break through writer’s block by following my characters, and if needed, bringing in new ones. I don’t tend to change the ones I have. But changing your characters can also work, which I think is fascinating.
CHANGING VERSUS GOING DEEPER
There’s a big difference between changing a character in a substantial way and learning more about that character. Neither is a better strategy than the other for breaking through writer’s block (though changing your character will probably require more editing work of what you’ve already written).
I’ve learned more about the characters in my fantasy novels as I’ve gone along, for sure. I learned that Kora Porteg’s brother Zacry, while rebellious against schoolwork to annoy his sister, would turn to schoolwork later on in order to prove to himself that he loved and supported her.
I learned that my two gruffest characters, Ranler and Kansten, weren’t really all that rough. They used their “bark” as a defense mechanism and were capable of true and deep attachments. Sure, they “barked” a lot, but they didn’t have much “bite.” They weren’t cruel that way (though they could have been.)
I figured out what was going on beneath the surface of my characters. I discovered why they acted the way they did. I realized that the nobles fighting in the resistance missed their families and their cushy lives; they didn’t talk much about the past because it hurt too much to remember the past.
I’ve never changed who a character was at the core, though.
I’ve never had a character “turn into” a traitor. Every traitor I’ve written about, I knew that about him or her from the start.
I’ve never stripped a character of magic powers (as in, realized that a character should never have had magic and then edited out his powers.)
I’ll admit, once I mentioned a character in passing early on, not realizing that character would feature further. When I learned this woman, Francie Rafe, would have to come back, I thought more about her and realized she had magic.
It wasn’t like I’d written Francie without magic and changed that, though. It was more that I had never thought about her much, because she was only mentioned in an anecdote someone else told. Whether Francie had magic or not didn’t matter. When she entered the story as a real person, I knew she needed to have magic, and wrote her that way.
Anyway (and thanks for bearing with me), here is my point:
- I think character, and knowing and following your characters, is generally the key to breaking through writer’s block.
- You can do this by changing a character in some substantial way.
- You can do this by delving deeper into a character’s psyche and learning more about him or her.
Tomorrow, I think I’ll consider why I opt for delving deeper, or adding new characters, over changing my characters. I’ve never thought about that before, and I think it could yield some fruitful results.
For now, how do you handle blocks? Have you ever substantially changed the essence of one of your characters? How did it work out, if so?
If you found this post because you’re facing a block (or you’re interested in the topic), I have other posts about writer’s block here you might find useful .
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