Finding Callie. Letting the Character Speak.

Those of you who follow me on Facebook or Twitter have probably caught at least a glimpse of my ongoing saga with “The Obstinate Character C” (I’ve even mentioned it on this blog a few times). For every breakthrough I have with Callie, it seems like I quickly run into another roadblock.

Her opening scenes underwent a COMPLETE rewrite — after I had already been through a round of edits with the original — because I just couldn’t get her voice.  I was struggling to find her.  I have been struggling to find her for a number of years.  And I was struggling to figure out why.

There is a good chance that I haven’t quite gotten her figured out yet, but I feel like I’m getting closer.  Lately I’ve found my brain running with supporting information, insight into the why’s and how’s of some pieces that had eluded me before, a hopeful sign.

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I think I have finally figured out part of the reason she has been so difficult for me to grasp.

I am a pretty level-headed individual (in most cases… Hey! You! Don’t laugh!).  I don’t anger easily (outside of sibling interactions.  Because my siblings, like all good siblings, know exactly how to push the right buttons).  I’ve worked hard at this, learned to keep my emotions in check and approach life so that I don’t get angry, so I don’t jump to the worst conclusions, so that I don’t turn into a weeping pile of goo (in public).  I find other ways to vent my frustration to keep it from building up to an explosion.

Anger has always been a complex issue for me (it is a very complex emotion in general) and I’ve done a lot of work exploring my own relationship to that particular emotion.  It’s been a long time since I’ve written a teen-aged character that is not just mildly angst-ridden, or somewhat introverted, but actually flat out angry.  Angry and willing to express that anger.  Sometimes unable to control it, anger bursting out in an explosion of fury.

But that is what Callie needed to be allowed to do. I was restricting her, limiting her to this box, keeping the anger contained.  I was not listening to who she truly is — the person she needs to be when the story starts — and it was making her stubborn and sulky.  It was causing this disconnect, and not allowing me to write the character as the character needs to be written.  

Callie made her debut over on Disparate Threads the other day, and I’m not sure I’ve ever had a character give me so much trouble and still get past the drafting stages.   Hopefully, now that we’ve ironed some things out and I’m letting her be her, things will go more smoothly for us.

I find myself wondering how often I have tried to confine a character within certain boundaries, just because I am challenged by who they need to be.  I imagine (read: hope) I’m not the only one who deals with this challenge.  How do you know that you are actually getting to the character, presenting them in the way that is true to who they are?

Part of trying to confine Callie was due to my own discomfort with her ways of expressing her anger, but just because it makes me uncomfortable doesn’t mean I shouldn’t write it.  Just because I have better ways to deal with my anger doesn’t mean she does.  How do we tap into those emotions (and ways of dealing with emotions) that are uncomfortable for us?  And, importantly, once we have managed to do that how do we keep those emotions from overflowing into our own lives?

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12 thoughts on “Finding Callie. Letting the Character Speak.”

  1. I feel your pain! Sometimes I get people associating characters with me, assuming that I am exactly the same as the character I portray in books! It’s keeping the two separate and using the voice of your creation to speak to you. If she was a real person, it wouldn’t matter how you deal with anger – you watch her evolve in your mind and write down what she does, how she reacts. If it makes you uncomfortable, note it in the reaction of the people around her. That way when the reader feels your discomfort, it becomes a reality of how different Callie is. Hope this helps!

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    1. Yes.. I’ve been trying to get into that mindset — perhaps part of the challenge is that she does remind me of myself when I was younger. But I was able to channel that some and put it to use (now that I get it), giving her a stomp-off and storm-about tactic that my twelve-year-old self knew quite well!
      Thanks for reading and commenting! 🙂

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  2. This was very interesting to read, mostly because it’s not the way I write at all! I don’t go about “finding” my characters; they typically run me down from behind, making me scurry for a notebook or keyboard to catch the runaway train before it’s too far gone. I trust them explicitly, taking their words down verbatim, their actions as they make them. I feel what they feel in that moment. After the flash is over, I add it to the others (even if I didn’t catch it in time, I remember the gist) and once I have enough is when the writing begins, where I have to make sense of it, look into their motivations, and generally sort out what of this is a scene and what can inform other scenes and what is just for me to know, as it will never serve the story. The nicest thing about my characters is that when I do sit down to pen the actual scenes, the viewpoint character comes back and their voice is there, adding details that are important to them as I type out the pertinent information for the reader. My writing life feels like that of a chauffeur. Do I know that I’ve got it right? Of course not, but I find if I trust the process and see where the road takes me, I’ll get what’s important/special/necessary about this character in the end…and finally what important thing I’ve discovered that I can use them to say.

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    1. A lot of the time my characters work like that -though they are far less willing to take complete control — usually giving me bits and pieces, hints and glimpses, before leaving me on my own to figure the rest out. That’s what has made Callie all the more challenge. She clearly showed up, clearly had a story, but it kept running into trouble (and not in the good “this will progress the story” kinda way). Under normal circumstances (or, in my earlier writing at last) I would have just let her drop there — clearly a false start. And I did leave her, and all the rest, for years. But when I came back to the story I found myself having to wrestle with her. She had a start, and as the story got further along she was very clear, but the start… it wasn’t right. I knew it, my beta’s knew it — it wasn’t the right story for her, it wasn’t true to her. And that’s where the challenge began, having to find why I couldn’t hear her real start, why she wasn’t telling.

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  3. I can relate, although I’m not sure I can think of a specific example. I feel like my characters get frustrated with me when I’m not expressing them properly, and it turns out there’s some vital element of their character that I either totally forgot or just never realized.

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