Authors: have you ever woken up with, say, a line of epic dialogue or something similar in your head? And you know it relates to characters you are writing about and working with? You can hear the tone, and you know vaguely what’s it about, and even though you don’t have all the answers, you know you need to work that in?
That one line might even change the course of a novel or series. Create new subplots. Force you to evolve your characters to make them more human. At least, that’s what happening in my case!
“I almost let him die.”
I woke up with that line of dialogue floating around my brain last year sometime. And I knew who was admitting it, and to whom. I knew how devastated he felt, and how that echoed in his voice. I knew exactly who was this guy he almost let die. I just didn’t have more details than that. Still don’t.
You see, I’m still working on my NaNoWriMo 2012 novel, which I’m hoping will start a series. (Either that, or I need to really rework things to give the book a satisfying, true ending.) I definitely see this line of dialogue helping me figure out how to develop my characters and my story, though.
And that’s great, because I’m learning fast I need to chart out where my story is going before I can edit the first novel further. Part of this is dealing with characters whom I love, but who may be a little bit too good to be believable.
Follow the Characters….
I always say to “follow the characters,” and this is precisely why. I feel that the character who speaks this line–prone to “knight in shining armor” tendencies, though I’m trying to downplay that as much as possible–is a bit unbelievable, and will definitely come off as ridiculous if I don’t do something to make him more human.
He’s very much the “willing hero” type, because he does have other options and could take his life in a different direction: one that isn’t evil in any way. He lives a tough life, though, sacrificing for the sake of other people.
I know that our characters aren’t real people, of course. But when we pretend like they are, and we ask ourselves, “What would this character do next?” or “Would this person really make that choice?” rather than, “How can I make this thing happen to advance the plot in a way I want?,” we are setting ourselves up for success. (For the most part. There are, of course, exceptions. We all write differently).
In my case, I feel like I can follow this character by focusing on the line “he gave me.” He was telling me, “No, no, no. Come on. If you keep putting me in situations like you’re putting me in, I’m going to crack and I’m going to mess up. Do something I won’t be proud of. At the very least, I’m going to be sorely tempted, and you need to acknowledge that. I’m human.“
How Following the Characters Affects Your Plot
“Following the characters” affects your plot in all kinds of ways. You might veer off from where you thought you were heading. Your characters might complicate things, in a good way or a frustrating way (at least at first.) They will show up in places you don’t really want them or didn’t see them appearing.
This knight-type I’ve been talking about…. ugh. He’s now going to be part of a group heading overseas to a second kingdom. I didn’t see him joining that travel party. And he cares deeply for someone who will have to marry someone else (unless I can find a way to stop that from happening that makes sense and doesn’t feel forced.) So LOTS of possibilities.
They’re not all good possibilities, and I feel kind of torn about this. I have no idea how to wrap up this subplot, let alone the overarching story about three kingdoms at war. But the more I think about things, the more I realize this guy is NOT going to let the woman he loves go off alone. So that’s a starting point, and I can build from there.
I’m excited to try to map things out and see where they might go, because I’ve learned that even when I take the time to outline a bit, my characters develop more as I write. As a result, I end up changing things here and there from how I’d outlined them. I’m always trying to stay true to the characters as much as I can: that’s the bottom line.
Victoria Grefer is the author the Herezoth trilogy, which begins with “The Crimson League.” She also has a writer’s handbook out, titled “Writing for You: A Novelist’s Guide to the Craft of Fiction.”
If you enjoyed this post, you can sign up to follow this blog by email at the top right of the page.