Saturday, May 27, 2006

It Begins With a Character, Usually...

“. . .once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.”
--William Faulkner

I first noticed that my characters had taken on lives of their own the day one of them died.

He didn’t just lay down and die of old age. Oh, no, not McGregor. That wasn’t his style. This strapping, handsome knight with long, wavy brown hair and a short beard died in battle. He gave his sword to an unarmed man, leaving himself defenseless. It didn’t even cross his mind, in the heat of the battle, that the man he would die protecting was his rival for the love of the woman they both adored. It never entered his noble soul that if he’d let the other man be killed, there would be nothing left standing between him and the woman he worshipped. Even I didn’t realize the depth of his goodness until the enemy slashed his chest open from shoulder to hip, baring his heart just as he had not long before when he told Elspeth he loved her. Nor did I realize how much I, the person who created him on paper, loved him

So I made my traveling group, though they were fleeing the kingdom for their lives, stop at the closest church and arrange a proper and respectful funeral for this brave knight.

And I grieved him. For days.

An author must feel great emotion for his or her characters, or no one else will. Love or hate makes no difference, but it must show through the words.

A word of caution. Do not love your character so much that you shield him from danger. To do so ensures your hero a long life, rich in leisure and deadly, deadly dull. It also ensures that your undiscovered readers remain that way.

What if Dr. Jones had remained in his classroom rather than traipsing through the jungle? How many times would James Bond have saved the day if he’d remained in the pub on the corner with his “shaken, not stirred” martini? Who would have unmasked the ghost if Scooby Doo had stayed in his doghouse? He'd have gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids!

So bite the bullet and let your characters go! Allow them to have a life of their own. Let them jump from roof to roof on a motorcycle. Let your hero take a leap of faith from the lion's head. Let your knight in shining armor give his life to save another.

Then, between gasps for air and thumping heartbeats, your readers will thank you!

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