Monday, July 31, 2006

On Characters


In the middle of a conversation with one of my beta readers about a week ago, I suddenly realized we were talking about my characters as if they were real people.

"What do you think Diane will do when she finds out about Lilleth?" I asked, knowing full well what Diane would do, having dreamed up her reaction some time ago.

"Oh, Diane will slap her silly," Beta said. "Wait; no, Diane isn't like that. She might want to, but she won't, she has too much self-control."

"You think so?" I asked. Beta will be in for a surprise, apparently, as will Lilleth.

And then I asked Beta if she thought it was strange that we were discussing inanimate characters in a novel as if they were real.

"Yeah, it is, sort of," she said, confirming my statement in my last blog that all writers are HBOP, and a goodly portion of readers likewise.

When readers like or hate my characters, I take this as a very high compliment indeed: it means they have formed some kind of relationship with the character, even though that character is a figment of my imagination.

Well, partly.

I construct my characters from people I have known in real life. I never bring them into a story whole, though, because along with a sincere desire to avoid litigation, I want them to fit certain profiles. I will take something from this person, and something from another, maybe a third or fourth, put it all in the oven and see what rises.

Of course this applies only to my protag and the supporting characters, not the villains, which I dredge up from the inner recesses of my own dark and brooding psyche. Next I'll give you a hot stock tip...

Since I write fantasy, I must acknowledge and pay homage to certain cliches, since that is what defines genre to an extent, otherwise I might as well write in the Genre that Takes Itself Much too Seriously to be Enjoyed. Fantasy readers have come to to expect such, so long as it's not overdone, or too obviously imitative.

Take for instance the Raven-Haired Warrior Queen/Huntress. My character Diane is cast squarely within that mold - but she is also Miss Manners, with unexpected vulnerabilities. I like using cliches; the reader, quite reasonably, expects things from such characters, most of which I give them - until I lower the boom, on the character and the reader...

This is part and parcel to me of the sort of thing I talked about in Sleight of Verb: verbal misdirection and manipulation of interest. My writing plan consists of creating characters that are as real as I can make them, in settings likewise, using real people as templates or cooking ingredients (take your pick), inviting or deceiving the reader (again, choose) into a relationship with the characters, and then manipulating the reader's interest and emotions (...) by having terrible things happen to the characters.

Dang, that sounds callous.

So far, it seems to be working, though...


TJWriter said...

I've missed talking to you!!

Zonk said...

Likewise! :-]