People don't generally believe me when I tell them that my characters have minds of their own. I mean, okay, I know that TECHNICALLY they did come out of my head. I'm not completely nutty. But getting to know a character, particularly just as you're beginning a story, can be an interesting experience. Especially if they don't want to be what you want them to be. Think this is impossible? Oh no. No it is not. And a character can make you utterly miserable until you get him or her right.
An example? In my book Dark Highland Fire, my heroine, Rowan, starts out as a stripper at a sleazy joint in Reno. She and I had no issues about also her also being an otherworldly, blood-drinking demigoddess: apparently, that worked for everyone. But the stripper thing, well...honestly, I was not at all sure about it. I tried to make her a more vulnerable refugee without a job. I tried to compromise and make her a bartender at the sleazy strip joint. I tried to work it so she didn't actually take her clothes off in front of a bunch of sweaty men. And in each of those cases, Rowan crossed her arms over her chest, glared at me, and said, "No, I'm a stripper. Deal with it!" She was right, of course...that opening scene with her doing her thing at the Pretty Kitty is probably the best opener I've written. And it ended up revealing a lot about her unconventional attitudes, about what bothered her and what didn't, and about how different her people were from your average human. It worked. So Rowan got to be a stripper. And I got to progress beyond chapter one and keep my sanity.
So I know what you're thinking: yeah, okay, you had an imaginary character glaring at you inside your head telling you what to do. Have you considered medication? Well, no, because that's not really exactly how it is either. It's just an easier way for me to visualize the mental roadblocks I run up against when I'm not getting a character right. Another example (and why this is on my mind today) is the new heroine I'm writing. I was all set to have her be this beautiful tough girl, brash and intimidating on the outside but wounded on the inside. I wrote most of a chapter with her that way, in fact. But as the scene went on, I knew something was wrong. I wasn't connecting with her. Her actions and words felt forced and wooden. Even my hero, who was reluctantly on his way to rescue her, wasn't acting right! There was no fun in the discovery of my heroine, no joy. And there always is for me...even though, later on, there will be days when I have to drag myself kicking and screaming to the computer to work (work, after all, being work and therefore easier at times than others), meeting my characters is always a pleasure. So I thought about it. I gave in to a different vision of her that had been simmering on the back burner of my brain for a few days (insisting, patiently and unflaggingly, "No, do THIS.") I was convinced, of course, that this new version wouldn't work, but maybe trying it and having it fail would just reinforce what I had already done. It happens. But it didn't this time. The character knew what she needed to be. She has a much different job than I'd tried to give her. And she doesn't even live where I thought she did! It's weird, and I don't get quite how it works, but that's the way it is.
One of my very favorite writers, Stephen King, describes writing a story as finding a fossil, buried in the ground, with just enough showing that you notice it. It's already there. The job of the writer is to chip and chisel away at the rock surrounding it and try to get the story out as intact as possible. This, thinking of all stories as found things, and not necessarily entirely in a writer's control, tells me he'd understand my unruly character problems:-) I may actually be a little nutty (ssh, don't tell anyone), but with company like that, you won't hear me complaining!
Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!