A novelist is a person who lives in other people’s skins.
– EL Doctorow
Why do your fiction characters do what they do? Are they acting/reacting in character or way out of character? How do you “make” your characters behave?
First of all, you only have some control over your characters. As you are writing, often a character will “take over” and “decide” just what they are going to do. Fine, but you still need to make sure they aren’t acting outside of who they are. Or that you, as the author, aren’t manipulating what they are doing, especially having them do something just to move your story along or worse, just to write something.
Let me give an example.
Take Dana, the PI In “Gone Missing” and “Saving Grace,” two of the four linked short stories in my short story collection, Beyond the Tripping Point. Dana is also the mother of a seven-year old boy. So her dual role must factor in what her character thinks and does. Add to that the fact that her son is psychologically mute because of something that happened to him in the prequel novel (more on that shortly) and my work was cut out for me. In a critique of “Gone Missing” a few years back, I was chastised for not making Dana more professional. But with her problems with David, she wouldn’t be operating as a PI only – all professionalism –unless she is a “bad” mother – finds her son an impediment to her life, etc. Dana is not that and is always torn between her two roles, something readers can identify with in real life. So I have her wrestling with David and helping him as well as trying to solve the missing persons’ cases in those two stories. In “Saving Grace” she has a bit of a meltdown at one point chastising herself for being a bad mother. And to add insult to injury, another character Great Aunt Doris, who is a traditionalist where mothers are concerned, calls her a bad mother.
What is a mother/PI to do? Be human. Act in character.
In the prequel novel which I am rewriting for my publisher to look at, the actual occurrence which causes David’s muteness and all its implications has Dana roller-coasting a lot more than in the short stories. She does some stupid things, briefly goes into a catatonic state and sometimes gets more aggressive than usual. But – and it’s a large “but” all this change, all these actions and reactions come from her basic character and who she is. I don’t pull them out of the air. She is acting in character and characters have to deal with hurdles and change. So do people in real life and maybe that is a bottom line.
Make your characters real. What motivates them? Are they acting in character even when they don’t seem to be?
And go to my publisher’s page for a link to my interview with Hugh Reilly on thatchannel.com where I talk about some of these characters and where they and the plots originated. Eventually I’ll get that video up in the main part of this blog.. For now go to http://www.bluedenimpress.com/sharon-crawford.php and click on the link at the bottom of my bio.
Sharon A. Crawford