Monday, August 10, 2009

Schizophrenic Characters and Other Nonsense

To paraphrase the rest of the Tri Mu. “Schizophrenia is not a flaw you should cultivate in your characters.”

Unfortunately, I did this in my current WIP.

In truth, Austin (the name of my hero) didn’t have schizophrenia so much as he had bipolar disorder. In five pages, he went from morbidly depressed to confidently flirty. Hmmmm….No logical jump in between the two either.

Writing is hard. Writing characters with a consistent and believable personality is even harder. As writers, we have people living in our heads (or chickens as the case may be). We know these people. They may or may not talk to us, but we know them. We know their age, their favorite colors, what they like to eat and what they would rather not eat. Some of us have spent years building a world for them to reside.

If I told most of my non-writing friends and family what happens inside my head, they would stage an intervention.

But we know our characters almost as well as we know ourselves. We know who we want them to be and who they have been in the past. So sometimes we know them better than we know ourselves. Prior to editing my first draft, I knew Austin and I loved him. He was flirty and genial. The perfect foil to my sarcastic and slightly depressed heroine.

But somewhere along the line I decided that I had fallen into the perfect hero trap. That he was too perfect to actually exist and that if I were ever going to sell my novel, Austin needed flaws. So I gave him one. A fiancé that died in a tragic accident that he caused. I amped up the guilt and the depression. It was great and I loved the scene. But then, I had to get the heroine and the hero together on the same page and well, it didn’t work.

Flashes of Austin as I knew him before kept coming through onto the page and by the second time I wrote from his perspective, I’d lost the guilt and depression over the dead fiancé.

I knew that I had problems so I let the Tri Mu read what I had completed and even, they agreed that Austin had a mental stability issue. (Thus, the quote at the beginning of this post.)

Characters don’t like it when writers tell them what to do. In this situation, I tried to tell Austin to be depressed and guilty. He disagreed. Non-writers say “You’re the writer. You get to tell the characters how to behave.” Maybe other writers can do this. I can’t. I guess that I’m a character driven writer. I don’t create the character to suit the plot. I create the plot to suit the character. I will have to accept this about myself.

I’ve decided to resort back to my original Austin. He’s happier now that I’ve decided to do this and the words are coming to the page again. And he’s not perfect. He never was, but don’t tell him I said that.


Sarah said...

Kudos for letting Austin reclaim his sense of self. One of my characters recently threw a fit because I tried to change his love interest's name. Her name was too similar to another one of the characters in the story, so I thought it'd be an easy fix. He adamantly denied knowing the woman in question after I'd pulled out the red pen and he stalked off like an overpaid actor with an ego complex. Sometimes, you just have to let them win.

purpleprose 78 said...

yep...They don't like it when you change things.

haricot vert said...

Sarah, that is hilarious!