Characters: Meeting My Cast

some kind of icon for vir
Believe it or not, I drew this one on a whim that resulted in the rest of the series.

I see my characters as people, and have for as long as I can remember. I listen to their voices, hold conversations with them, and frequently think about them in my day to day life. Because they’re the center of my plot, they’re at the core of that growing process, driving the events of my story. It’s through my characters that I ultimately learn the most about my world, through their prejudices and their struggles. In interacting with my characters intimately, and in part they do decide the plot, their interactions with one another and the world itself creating the unique circumstances of their story.

This cast has been a pleasure to get to know so far, and in getting to know them I’ve also had the opportunity to learn a lot about myself. Self-discovery through the writing process has been something I’ve long since come to expect, but it’s always pleasant when the characters that you get to know so well can teach you so much about yourself, in turn.

I’ve really connected with my protagonists, especially, who originally started as player characters in an MMORPG set in a popular universe. Xeulo, Jayce, and Virsune have become important figures in my life, and have taught me a lot about what I value in other people, what I see in myself, and how to best manifest my own sense of morality. I played through their stories in the game with a close friend, but even since then they’ve developed beyond what I would have expected them to. I barely recognize Virsune from the man who talked big about collapsing a crime cartel through legitimate means only to develop into the man he is today — formerly a terrorist.

Converting them from their fan character pasts was an adventure, to be sure, but ultimately I feel that it was the best choice. I can certainly still feel the influence of Star Wars and Dragon Age in my story (some say Mass Effect, but I think they’re just getting thrown off by the Bioware flavor — I’ve never played ME, it’s impossible for it to be an influence), but it’s becoming more and more unique every day, and that is in no small thanks to the characters who inhabit it. I wouldn’t know nearly as much about the Ryll without Virsune, and almost nothing about the history of humans in the Galaxy without Jayce. It just goes to show that the getting to know you approach to character development can generate characters and worlds that feel incredibly alive.

I’ve always been the sort of person who grows their plots rather than building them. An author once said (it might have been George RR Martin, actually; in which case this is the only thing he’s ever said that I agree with) that there are two sorts of writers, gardeners and architects. Obviously, architects carefully construct their stories, measuring the distance and length carefully, while gardeners grow and attend to their stories because they treat it like a living thing.

I think his implication was that architects are better because he’s an architect, and most architects I’ve met would probably agree. I see a lot of posts on the writing blogs I follow that frequently talk about how seeing your characters as people actually detracts from the purpose of writing. I do understand where they’re coming from, actually. Emotional objectivity is generally seen as a better method of doing almost anything that doesn’t involve direct face to face interaction. If you see your character as tools, you’re less likely to spare the rod and spoil the child, so to speak.

The thing about gardening, though, is that if you want your plants to be healthy sometimes you have to prune them. Ultimately, the same is true about our characters. There’s nothing wrong with viewing your story as an organic thing that grows, but we need to make sure that we do enough pruning (through the editing process) that we do them the due service they deserve. Being a gardener doesn’t mean being a bad writer, nor does it mean you’re going to be less objective, it just means that you view your work differently and have a different relationship with it.

I wouldn’t feel too bad if your favorite writing blogs tell you that your approach to creating character is juvenile and similar to what middle school girls do. They’re doing it to insult you because you don’t conform to their idea of what makes a good writer, but ultimately middle school girls are some of the most creative people around. They haven’t been constrained by all the stupid rules yet, even if they don’t have as much practice as we do in the semi-professional world of beginning writers. If you have the enthusiasm for writing that a middle school student has, I’d say you’re doing pretty well for yourself, all things considered, just make sure to combine that enthusiasm with your experience and keep sight of your writing goals.

 

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