Last week we discussed author-based characters, but let’s focus on the relationship characters have with their authors. These are people in our heads who want their story told so badly, and we are their own means to be made known unto the world. It’s a hefty task, if you think about it. But when it comes to characters, there are two kinds of authors. There are those authors who hear their characters’ voices in their head, can see them clearly, communicates with them often, and has little say in what they will and will not do. And then there are those authors who don’t have that relationship with their characters. Let’s break this down a bit more.
Interactive Authors are those interact with their characters. To them, their characters are very real people, and the rest of the world is very unfortunate not to see or have a chance to communicate with them. That’s why these authors write. The characters are so vivid and strong and real, their story must be told. This makes writing fun and enjoyable, but it also runs the risk of making it very difficult.
Fleshed-out characters are those who have a say on everything you want them to do. Not only that, but they’ll also whisper in your ear a profound twist at the worst (or best) of timing, and all you can do is sit there and stare stunned because suddenly everything makes sense—suddenly the character has a new layer of depth to them you had never imagined. However, as I mentioned, if the character doesn’t want to do something, it won’t.
Characters have a secret superpower—the ability to curse the writer with Writer’s Block. If you try to force the character to do something, he will go kicking and screaming all along the way, or he might fall silent and completely close off and glare at you. Without the open interaction with the character, you will find your imagination falls short, and it will run dry. When that happens, you flounder about for ideas, explanations, something—anything! And the character won’t talk to you until you’re ready to listen. So either you’ll throw the story away and never finish it, or you’ll knuckle down, back up, and figure out where the problems began while keeping an open mind toward the characters. You will know when you’re getting close to the problem. There is a game children play where one of them hides something, and the others have to find it, and if they’re getting closer to the item, the child says, “Hot,” but if they’re getting further from it, he says, “Cold.” The same idea applies here. As you get closer to the problem, the character will hint, “Hot,” but if you drift further from it, the character will become silent again. Once you’ve landed on the problem, the character will be like, “FINALLY! Now, can I tell you what I want to do rather than doing what you wanted me to do?” Sometimes it wastes words and time doing this, but you always learn something.
Now there are also Static Authors. These authors don’t have such communication with their characters. I’m going to be honest, I don’t understand how an author can ‘not’ have that interaction with their characters, but I have run across people who look at me weird and ask, “Your characters actually talk to you?” to which I want to respond, “Your characters don’t?” However, every author has their own style. I have found though while listening to Static Authors explain their story and what problems they have encountered, their stories are very author-controlled. The author wants this story to turn out this way and have his character do or say this or that, and there is very little room for negotiation from anybody outside the author (friends or family) or even inside the author’s mind (characters). With Static Authors, the characters have little to no voice because they realize their writer won’t listen to them.
As an Interactive Author, sometimes the characters of Static Authors talk to me because their own authors won’t listen to them. It makes for awkward conversations at times when a Static Author comes to me to brainstorm a problem they’ve encountered, and along the way I hear like the nagging voice of a character that isn’t even my own, so I ask the author, “Have you tried talking to your character?” I always encourage the author to listen to the character and communicate with them, because that resolves problems the quickest. I can’t always be around being the meditator between author and character, and it shouldn’t be that way.
Some writers are very mechanical and have to have anything and everything figured out about their characters before they even begin a story. This can be both good and bad. Good—because it helps you thoroughly think out your story and develop the characters and storyline. However, it can be bad because no matter how much you prepare ahead of time, the character and/or story may simply not want to go that way, and if you try to force the issue, you run the risk of Writer’s Block. So, no matter your approach to writing, always keep an open mind.
So, is it weird to communicate with people that don’t even exist? Does this borderline insanity? For people who cannot discern the line between reality and fantasy, then yes—it does borderline insanity, but for the most part, authors are acutely aware of the line. They love to cross it back and forth all the time, but they never blur the actual line.
“If I’m a Static Author, is that all I’ll ever be?” or likewise, “If I’m an Interactive Author, is that all I’ll ever be?” No. The kind of author you are can change over the course of your life depending on what you are encountering in real life and how you respond to it. If you are going through a difficult time where everything seems to be out of your control, you might switch from being an Interactive Author to a Static Author because you want one realm of your life to be under your control—no arguments. Static Authors, you might decide one day to let loose and just have fun with writing and not be concerned with whether or not it is publishable work. And you can always revert back to the kind of author you’re most comfortable with. Neither of them are wrong, and there are things both kinds of authors can learn from each other.
So what kind of author are you?