Hey there, reader, and welcome to Teen Fiction Girl! This article is loosely based on a dream I had last night, which was loosely based on a problem that I (and countless other writers, young and old) encounter often.
My dream last night was a rather accurate representation of a death scene that I’ve been planning in my novel for a while now. (This novel is my NaNoWriMo novel; while I did reach my word count goal for the month, I didn’t finish the book, so even though I technically won NaNoWriMo, I’m still writing. If you haven’t already, you can read about that novel here.) After I woke up, I was pretty proud of how spot-on my interpretation of the scene and characters was. As we all know, your dreams can kind of run away with things like that. The only inaccuracy was the landscape, and nobody cares about details like that, anyway.
The dream I had was a dream about myself writing the story from inside the story. Rather than a writer, I was a director, telling the characters what to do and how to do it. I felt like a movie producer, telling the “actors” (my characters), “Okay, you go over there! You, pretend to be dead! You, actually die, because this is your death scene. But first, say these things, okay?”
The thing was, the characters/actors didn’t want to do what I said. They wanted to do their own thing. And when they didn’t want to do their own thing, they had no idea what they were supposed to be doing. They were total loose cannons, and my writer self was immensely frustrated.
After I woke up, I realized, after much careful meditation and reflection on the subject (alright, not really), that this was a sort of metaphor for a situation I’ve been in many times. Have you ever began writing a story or book with perfectly clear ideas of what your characters were supposed to be like, and then, when the story or book was finished, seen your characters turn into something entirely different than what you intended? Either you can admit defeat and let your characters be their less-than-perfect new selves, or you can go back and do a whole lot of editing. Both are equally frustrating, and neither produce the results you hoped for in the beginning.
Alternatively, your characters didn’t turn into completely different versions of themselves, but they ended up flat and personality-less, mere vehicles of the plot you intended for them to carry out. Or maybe you went over the top with their development and now they’re too great, so perfect that no one can relate to them. (This particular kind of character is called a Mary Sue; you can read my old post about them here.)
I’ve found that these things can happen when you’re trying to write a Perfect Character™. By Perfect Character™, I mean you’re so obsessed with making your character completely, utterly brilliant that you think of them too much as a factor of the story and not enough as a character in the story. Don’t try to make your character perfect. Writers are human, too, and we make mistakes. Stephen King makes mistakes. Jane Austen made mistakes. Even J. K. Rowling makes mistakes. (Probably, although sometimes I doubt that.) Sometimes, when you’re too obsessed with making your character exactly as it should be, you get too focused on one aspect of your character and forget to look at the whole picture. When this happens, your character can seem wrong, like when you’re drawing a portrait and get too focused on the nose and suddenly you realize that the whole picture is out of proportion.
The solution? Don’t write perfect characters. Write natural characters. What would you do in a situation? Make your character do that, not what would best further the plot. First, write you, and then, once you’re confident with that, get a little more imaginative. If I were [insert person], what would I do? How would I behave? These questions are good ones, and ones that your story can – and will – answer.
I hope this post was helpful and/or interesting to you. Leave a rating or comment to tell me what you thought, and if you liked it a lot, show me by giving the post a like. (It’s funny how, when you like something, you hit the like button. I bet you never would have guessed what that button was for, would you?)
Thanks for reading!