Saturday, October 6, 2007

My characters don't like me

I wanted to get up this morning and get a jump on the day with writing. My problem is a mixture of procrastination and fear: I procrastinate starting a new project because I'm afraid. I'll do anything to get out of starting: clean, grocery shop, surf the web, research. I'll do things I've been putting off for weeks to avoid having to start a story. It's really not that I'm afraid it's a bad idea, or that I can't write it, it's that it means I'm committing myself to this idea, and for some reason that's difficult for me to do. I'm writing this entry right now to avoid starting. However since I've already rearranged my office and gone to the gym, there's little left to do to get out of starting.

On my mind today is the idea of outlining and pre-planning. I never used to be a pre-planner. When I had research papers in college to write, I just came up with my thesis and let my research take me where it would; stories were the same way. I usually start with characters and one situation and then see what they do. This is a great, organic way to work, but it led to very unfocused stories that often went nowhere. With my last story, I pre-planned every detail of the journey. It made the story very easy to write. I got 11 chapters, 150 pages, done in about 2 weeks. The writing wasn't bad, I knew I'd edit the hell out of it later, but there was something wrong. I had three main characters, Nara, Nik, and Cassidy. They begin the story seperated from each other, not knowing it's their destiny to meet and accomplish my plot.

My first part of the story was to introduce Nara into this new world. To do that, I brought Cassidy's older brother Emerson to life. Nara was a world wise 16 year old girl, and Emerson was a rougish 18 year old guy. He swooped in and saved her life and helped her get from America, where she lived, to London, where the bulk of the story would take place. It was a great beginning: the scenes with Nara and Emerson were energetic, paced well, the dialogue was amazing. In short, these two characters had wonderful chemistry.

The problem is that when she finally met up with Emerson's brother Cassidy, and Cassidy's friend Nik, the scenes fell completely flat. Cassidy is a wonderful character, timid, unsure of himself, but very capable. He is one of those people who has the goods, he just doesn't know it. Nara is one of those characters who doesn't have time for whiners, and Nik is the quiet type who prefers to just get things done. The combination worked in the planning stage, but in reality, neither character had time or patience to allow Cassidy to grow, and he just came across as a needy git.

In the end, Nara would have never gone on this adventure with Cassidy, even though there are valid reasons for him needing to be part of trio. In real life, Nara and Cassidy would have stayed together and the two of them would have taken up the adventure. This is where it pays to allow the characters to do what they would naturally do. As a writer, I feel like I've created compelling, well rounded characters when they begin to do things I would have never thought the could do, but are totally in character for them.

So I shelved that story to give it time. I have to decide whether to fundamentally change who Cassidy is as a character, or go back and allow Nara and Emerson to take the story where they think it should go.

Th lesson this taught me was that some planning is great but overplanning can kill the story. My current attempt will be to marry the two ideas. I've told my main character that he has to do A, B, & C, but that how he does it is up to him. I've painted a vivd world for him to play in and hopefully it will make for something really fantastic.

Song of the Day: The Breeders "Saint"

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