Thursday, May 7, 2009

Stuff My Characters Taught Me

Writing novels is getting to be quite the eye-opener for me. I was never sure I could sustain an idea for tens of thousands of words. So far I’ve got two in the first draft stage and a third with more than 16,000 words that I started on April 15. I am having the time of my life with it.
I belong to a wonderful writing site, Absolute Write, and I’ve learned a great deal there from warning signs for lousy publishers and agents to how to write a book proposal to just plain how to write.
What comes up often is how characters reveal themselves to the author. This used to throw me. Before I had two hints to rub together to spark a clue I thought that the author came up with the character and took it from there. Then I read about characters suddenly announcing all manner of interesting things to a tickled, if bemused, creator.
I didn’t understand. Then it happened to me.

This is what characters do. They are their own people. I am just their creator and frankly, there’s not much I can do once I’ve breathed life into them. They get what they want or they punish me.
In my first manuscript I had two characters mostly sorted out until they decided that their species are sex shifters.
Then halfway through the book another character walked out of the bush. It’s the same species, but pre-pubescent and therefore neither male nor female. This was news to me.

I thought I had most things figured out for the second book until one of my characters announced she was a lesbian. At first I tried to talk her out of it because I had no clue how to go about writing about her. She wasn’t having any of it. She is who she is and good for her. It’s better for the story that way. She also likes to wear her boots without socks. I tried that for about an hour. I don’t share the joy of it.

I wrote the second manuscript to take my mind off the first. Just before I finished it I got the idea for the third ms so I got going on it. The characters didn’t say too much to me initially. I had some ideas on my own and wrote them, but that was about it.
Then I made the classic error. I wondered why they weren’t revealing anything. The next thing I knew a kindly old lady in a funny hat announced she had five university degrees and an IQ of 147. Her degrees are in a branch of advanced mathematics, Environmental Psychology, and Cryptozoology. She hasn’t told me about the other two yet. I complain that I won’t be able to write about her properly. She laughs at me.

If nothing else writing books is a wonderful lesson. I’ve learned about sustaining ideas and punting things that don’t work no matter how much I’ve put in to them. I have learned my subconscious will direct me and to put my complete faith in my Muse, Marie-Josee.

And I’ve got to say it, I am having a blast.


the Bag Lady said...

I am so jealous that you are having so much fun.... :)

It's amazing when the characters start appearing out of the bush, or telling you things about themselves! Very exciting.
(and I can't wait to meet your brilliant little old lady!)

Leah J. Utas said...

df Bag Lady, it is exciting. I sometimes don't know what to expect in my own WIP. I'm sure Dottie Phlebos is looking forward to meeting you.

Missicat said...

Sounds exciting! I so wish I could write...have some ideas but don't have your way with words.

Hilary said...

Sounds fascinating. I've wondered what it might be like inside the mind of a fiction writer, lyricist or composer. I figure it gets very busy in there at times. I just have no concept, but suspect it's somewhat different for everyone. Thanks for the glimpse inside of your process. :)

Leah J. Utas said...

Y'know Missicat, if you give it a shot you just might surprise yourself.

Hilary, thanks. Oh, my, all the ideas fighting for attention, getting louder and louder, resorting to juvenile tricks to be noticed...

Jason Gusmann said...

the process by which characters reveal themselves can be really amazing! i've never had any switch genders on me as you have, but learning that a character is smarter (or at least better educated) than you are is challenging, to say the least. first trip here, i'll be back -

Leah J. Utas said...

Jason, I'm glad you found your way here. The characters are keeping me on my toes, and on the Internet researching, too.

Reb said...

You make it sound so fun! I wish I could put words together in a coherent manner. I am sure you will find a publisher for these soon.

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

My characters are always very real to me. Sometimes they'll answer my questions, sometimes not. One of my characters quit talking to me after I let the girl he loved leave him.

Have you been to Come in Character yet? It's a great place to let your characters hang out and have fun with other characters. Mine have been having a blast!

Leah J. Utas said...

Thanks for your support, Reb. It is fun.

Bunnygirl, I've bookmarked the linky for later enjoyment. Thanks.
Sounds like they punish you too.

Terrie Farley Moran said...

df Leah,

Characters do have a mind of their own and once they decide who they are, well good luck changing their minds.

Thanks for this post. I enjoyed it immmensly.


Leah J. Utas said...

Mine know better than I do, df Terrie. You're welcome. Glad you liked it.

Thomma Lyn said...

hehe!! Sounds like you're having a blast. Trying to keep up with the antics of my characters is what I love the most about writing. :)

Redbush said...

You're so talented, Leah! Your characters sound so interesting! I'm definitely not even close when it comes to the words you use.

Leah J. Utas said...

Thomma Lynn - they sure do keep us on our toes, don't they?

Thank you for your kind words, Redbush.

Barbara Martin said...

Leah, you will find that writing fiction is good for the soul; and your characters will surprise you more and more. Mine do all the time.