Friday, 23 July 2010

Truly Yours...

In a writers’ group recently, I participated in a really good conversation about knowing our characters, getting into their heads and—most importantly, being true to them.


The discussion began with a question of mine, a doubt about how quickly my two main characters fell in love. I hadn’t intended for them to fall with the speed of a piano from a five thousand story building. But they did. Without even consulting me, they just did it. The wonderful, inexplicable kind of love where they didn’t know when it happened or how it happened. It just happened.


In this snippet, I tried to explain it through my characters:

He rested his hand on my chest. “So we’re together now in your bed. Why are you crying?”

Because I love you, because I loved you the first time I saw you. I don’t know why, but I did. My heart ached with his beauty. Tender pain filled me because he wasn’t shocked or disgusted by my tears, only curious. I smiled. “I don’t know.”

Even so, I still had doubts as to the realism of this situation. Questions raced in my mind. Could two real people fall so fast? Should I have given them more time to develop their love? Does this happen in real life? Did I need to expand the story to create a more substantial reason for them to fall in love? If they are two men, does this make a difference in the time frame for love? Will a reader believe these two could have such an attraction? What to do? What do to?


Of course, I fell back on the advice: Be true to your character.


If the characters are spawns of my imagination—if I created them, who exactly am I going to be true to? Is there a formula, a psychology for individual characters, that a writer uses? Or is it just plain gut feeling? Questions, questions.


My big fear is that by driving their emotions and actions with my own instincts, they are merely doing what I would do, not what real people in real scenarios would do.


For example: I love to write gangsters, tough guys. The mobster guy image is only in my imagination, but do I really know what a gangster would do emotionally? Be true to the character, be true to the character, my inner voice beckons. Does that mean I pattern him after Edward G. Robinson or George Raft every time? Or can MY mobster maybe BE a teddy bear inside, be all schmaltzy, maybe even cry sometimes? A secret? The guy who’s crying in the snippet I shared? He’s a big tough guy. So maybe George Raft would never cry. My guy would.


But is it okay for him to cry? To be silly in love so fast?


This my question for you: What does being true to your character mean to YOU? Does it mean you research your characters’ types and go by actual personalities of real-life people? Do you have a rule of thumb: certain types would never do certain things?


Or do you just go by YOUR gut and put a big heaping dose of yourself into your creations? Do you let go and just let them…be?

21 Comments:

Z.A. Maxfield said...

I have to admit, I do put a heapin' helping of myself into my characters. Ultimately, I write what I'd like to read, and that is reflected in the work I do.

It's funny that you mention it, because I'm working on something right now that isn't going the way I thought it would, and I was telling a friend that finding pace and trajectory of the love affair in a story is like lifting the corner of a BandAid. As soon as I get hold of exactly why my characters are going to fall in love, I can usually move it at the speed I want it to go and maneuver it to its destination. Rrrriiiiip.

In the case of the book I'm writing now, I'm having trouble "lifting an edge" I don't want my lovers attraction to be based on anything shallow, although I keep joking that if I don't get it soon I'll throw in a gosh darn cute baby animal.

But to answer your questions, if you're talking about characters in books they can do any damn thing you want, as long as they're not merely one dimensional. People find egregious stereotypes far more unpleasing than an occasional gangster who is moved to tears by love as long as you've built him so real for the reader that he could do nothing else in the situation. I'm reminded of that character Malloy from the Raymond Chandler novel "Farewell My Lovely" who is searching for his girl, Velma. He's the author of a lot of chaos, but I found his character oddly sympathetic in a weird way, especially in the movie.

C. Zampa said...

Thanks, Zam, I love your thought about him being so real that he can do nothing else in the situation.
That is the key!
Thank you for dropping by! I enjoyed your thoughts!

Lisa Alexander-Griffin said...

There's no rhyme or reason for love...it just happens. Sometimes fast, and sometimes it's something we grow into. I think a lot depends on your characters and their personalities. What they've experienced in life, the losses they've had. Everyone is different, our reactions are different. Why shouldn't our characters be the same way? :)

C. Zampa said...

Thank you, Lisa! I agree 100%. No rule books for love, are there?

Lisa Alexander-Griffin said...

None. lol. I enjoyed your post. :)

Anonymous said...

Lisa said what I was thinking!

Em.

:)

sarahballance said...

My characters tend to boss me around at times, and if they're strong enough to do that then I have to believe in what they're doing and how (and how quickly) they're falling in love. But I don't tend to research my characters; rather, I write what I know. I've got to have a feel for who they are on an instinctive level because I'm not one who can get any flow out of a personality I've got to "look up." Locations, professions, factual things I can research, but what makes my characters tick has to belong to me.

As for what drives them, as the writer and creator you know that better than anyone. As long as their emotions feel real to you, then they're real enough. =c)

Anonymous said...

Love can happen in the twinkling of an eye or grow as time goes by. The scenario you choose is based on your knowledge of your characters and a talented author can make love at first sight real.

YOU are a talented author and know how your characters feel. I say go for it!

Tess

C. Zampa said...

Thank you Em!

Susilien said...

I'm not a writer, I'm a reader. I love to read. I have been reading since I was a small child.

I love characters who are written so well that I can picture them. I tend to make pictures of what people say as well as what I read. If you have made your character so that what you are having them do seems like it is a part of them, or if they are changing themselves that it is a part of who they are trying to become, then that is what I want to read.

I hope that was understandable. I love what you have written so far. Good luck.

C. Zampa said...

Thanks, Sarah!
I can tell by your writing that you DO know your characters very well.

I, too, have to look up professions, statistics and things because my characters are often in another era.

But I'm like you in writing their actual 'character'. I guess they ARE me. Even the bad guys' hearts are pretty much 'me' when all is said and done.

Thanks, my dear friend, for stopping by.

C. Zampa said...

Thank you, Tess!

Oh,it CAN happen in a twinkling of an eye, can't it?

I suppose if we do believe it enough, we can make it seem real through our characters. You're so right.

Thank you for visiting!
And...thank you for your encouraging words!

C. Zampa said...

Susilien, what you said makes perfect sense! I love it, too, when characters ares so real that we can see them.

That, I think, is my biggest goal in writing. If they aren't real, what's the point of them?

Thank you for visiting and for your kind words.

Jaime Samms said...

You wrote:
*My big fear is that by driving their emotions and actions with my own instincts, they are merely doing what I would do, not what real people in real scenarios would do. *

Are you not a real person, my dear? Because you seem real to me. :) Real people fall in love instantly all the time. I do. I know, I'm a girl, and that's different, but I don't really think it is, actually. I think guys do too, but either society, or hard wiring dictates that they hide it more, be more wary of showing that kind of vulnerability. (which, of course, is your built-in conflict, right?)

If you can imagine feeling it, then it's real. The spectrum of human behavior is so wide, that, to me, the most anyone could say is "*I* would never behave that way." And that might be true, but if your characters do, then they do. Just like real people, real characters do unexpected things, sometimes. You're the writer. You just have to keep up :D Good luck!!

C. Zampa said...

Thank you, Jaime! Good words! And that's a good point: if I can imagine feeling it, then it's real. That is true!

Thanks for visiting!

Andy Eisenberg said...

Interesting questions and discussion!

There is a certain amount of me in my characters - they're not just idealized versions of me, taller, better looking, in better shape - but my personality and my life experiences help shape who they are.

Love at first sight? I believe in it and think that my husband and I are proof. We met in a one night stand type scenario and that one night stand hasn't ended more than 12 years later. People could accuse me of being the romantic type but he's am ex-marine, a construction worker, man's man type and is not ashamed when he's moved to tears.

You've created your characters and know what's right for them and it'll come through to your readers.

BTW, love your banner and journal appearance!

C. Zampa said...

Andy,it is so nice to meet you! Oh, your account of you and your husband made my day! I love the romance of it and am SO touched to hear that big, tough guys ARE moved to tears and DO have soft hearts! That made me smile.

And, yes, our own experiences do shape who our characters are, you're so right!

Thank you so much for visiting and sharing! It was nice to have you! And thank you for the compliment!

Victor J. Banis said...

I think ultimately all of your characters spring from someplace within you - even the stinkers. But I don't try to cogitate too much about that. I let them shape themselves in my mind until they have become real to me (sometimes that happens before I start, and sometimes it happens as the story goes along.) I said elsewhere that I write to learn what I know. Much of it my characters teach me. But when you do this, inevitably there comes a time when the story - or the characters - pass you by, and know more than you do. I think this is a good thing. I would hate for my writing ever to cease being about discovering me.

C. Zampa said...

I love your words, Victor!

Particularly 'inevitably there comes a time when the story -- or the characters -- pass you by, and know more than you do.'

And they do just that, don't they?

Thank you for visiting!

Regina Carlysle said...

Love at 'first sight' must really happen because folks have talked about it almost since the beginning of time. Is it "real love" if it's so fast? *shrugs* Who the hell knows? But if personal experiences have built your characters into people who are more intuitive then why shouldn't they fall in love at first sight?

C. Zampa said...

Thank you, Rita! I agree, I agree! And you're right. It HAS been spoken of since the beginning of time. Must be something to it?

Thanks for visiting!