Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sleeping With Your Characters

How do you know who your characters are?  How do you learn what makes them tick?

For myself, I can scheme and plan and write character outlines all day long, but they mean nothing until I write the scene.  That's when I find out who the really are, how they'll react to a given situation.  Anything I do before then is only:
  • my best guess
  • a sincere hope
  • utter garbage
This is one of the things that marks me as a pantser (I dislike that term, and prefer the full-out seat-of-the-pants writer) rather than a plotter.  I'm not going to argue that now, though it will be a future blog topic.  No, the issue here is how to get the writing done.

I write scene-by-scene.  Wherever I leave off in my word processor or notebook, that's where my mind is occupied until I pick up the keyboard or pen again.  When things are going well, "what happens next" is brewing all during my down-time, and then next time I write I have everything present in my head.  When I'm very busy with the rest of my life (my normal situation), I don't get much time to noodle next steps.  Coincidentally, I have trouble falling asleep because my mind is flitting over upcoming commitments or my day job.

But I've found that lying in bed and letting my novel's "what happens next" play at the surface of my mind actually helps me fall asleep.  In addition, I get the benefit of uninterrupted brewing time, in a relaxed state to boot!  I didn't expect this.  I would have thought that thinking about the novel would keep me awake, rather than help to lull me to sleep.

It works for me.  How do your characters become real?

Video:  How to fall asleep without thinking about sleeping.


  1. Good to see you finally got started.

    My characters become real (at least in my opinion they're real) by letting them set their own stage and improv their own lines. I don't go scene by scene myself. If I try to, I end up forcing the characters and it comes out as junk. Rather, I make a character out of nowhere and a scene for him to be in. Later, I'll just see the character doing something else in the story. Frequently, this is much later and my goal becomes to write my way from where I started to that point. As I go, I get new scene popping into my head so that the stretch I have to write becomes less. I figure out from these scenes how the character is and then can write them as they would really act. This happens naturally for me, for whatever reason it is just the way I think.

    The downside of this is that you better be flexible with your story. Otherwise, you'll see your characters doing things that have nothing to do with your intended story and you'll have to drop one for the other. Worst case, you end up where I'm at now with the story line for my Nightmares game. I know how it starts, and I have an awesome ending planned but no idea how to get from one to the other. But actually, I made good progress on this last night. I refined the character motivations and explained what exactly happened at the end of the war of Nightmares. I'm still not sure how to fill it exactly, but now it will easier and the ending will certainly be complete.

    So, that's how I make my characters live.

  2. Interesting. Of course, when I say I write scene-by-scene, I mean two things: first that I complete most scenes in one (sometimes two) sittings, and second, well... it's just another way to say that I write in chronological order. If I say I know where the story's going to wind up, I'm only fooling myself.

    If I plan on getting to a certain point, I find later that my characters have gone to another point, by a route I couldn't have predicted without writing them there.

    Everything else gets fixed up in rewrites.