Wednesday, September 15, 2010

My Characters Are Not My Kids

I'd like to take a short break from the Facing Our Fears series. Blame it on my Muse. She's not exactly a linear thinker :-) Don't worry, though. We'll get back on track soon enough...

While driving home from work yesterday evening, I got a plot idea for a story I've been working on. A wonderful idea. An awful idea. A deliciously, wonderfully awful idea.

It's wonderful because it fits the story so well and it's true to my heroine and it adds so much nail-biting tension I can hardly stand it...and...and...well, it is exactly what I need. To a tee.
At the same time, it's awful because it requires me to do a really bad thing to my heroine. Bad enough to almost destroy her. Bad enough to cut her off from just about everyone around her. Before you ask, yeah, it is that screwed up, and no, it's not rape, torture or any other form of abuse. It's something a little more subtle, but with equally devastating results.

The funny thing is, as much as I love the idea, a large of me is railing against it because I know just how difficult it will make life for my character---for many of the characters in the story, in fact. And, even though this is a perfectly fictional being we're talking about here, some twisted maternal part of me wants to protect her, keep her safe. I want her to walk, talk and feel as alive as real, flesh-and-blood person, except I don't want her to feel pain. I don't want her to bleed.

Am I the only one who thinks that's a tad bit weird? Gosh, I hope not.

Fortunately, I thought of some wise words from one of my favorite writers of all time, the one-and-only Holly Lisle. I don't believe I've mentioned her on the blog before, but the woman has been an utter godsend for my writing. Her website has advice for just about every writing question you can think of, and 99.9% of it is FREE. Not to mention the fact that her Secret Texts trilogy features some of the most fantastic world-building I've ever come across...

But I digress. Anyway, in her "How to Create a Character" workshop, Ms. Lisle says the following:

You must feel empathy for the characters you create, both the heroes and the villains, but you can never feel sympathy. In other words, you have to understand why your characters do what they do, but you can't let that understanding tempt you to ease their suffering, or let them take the easy way out of situations, or experience sudden miracles that remove their obstacles.

And you know something? That's exactly my problem right now. I'm sympathizing with my heroine instead of empathizing with her. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. I've spent a ridiculous number of years with this character, more years than I'd care to admit. I suppose it's natural that I've become attached to her, that I think of her as a sort of adopted child.

Except that she's not. She's a character, not a kid, and no matter what hell I put her through, she won't break. Besides, if she never has to go through anything tough, no one will want to read her story.

What about you? Do you ever get too attached to your characters? What do you do when it happens?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Facing Your Fears (Part 2)

Okay, I've never done a blogging series before, so I hope you'll bear with me. I'm still feeling my way through this thing. Well, let's dive right in, shall we?

In my last post, I discussed how fear is an emotion that both helps and harms us. I also mentioned how it can be a pretty serious Muse-killer if we allow it to be. In the comments section, we talked about our fears at different stages in the writing process. These three were the ones most likely to have us waking up in a cold sweat:

Fear of FAILURE: This is probably the most obvious of the three. You know the feeling. You find an agent, but she can't sell your story to save her life. Or, you find a publishing home but the book tanks. Or worse, it gets all sorts of press---only it's the bad kind. Pick your scenario, but they all end the same way; namely, with you curled up in the fetal position in the corner of your bedroom, sucking your thumb.
  • Fear of "WRITING LIMBO": This fear is similar to #1, but with a subtle difference. It's less about the crash-and-burn and more about never having the chance to crash in the first place. It's that infuriating mental brick wall we writers lovingly refer to as "writer's block." It's getting stuck in the quicksand of endless revisions. It's querying the same story for what seems like years and never getting past form rejections. If that stuff doesn't give you the heebie-jeebies, you ain't serious about writing.
  • Fear of SUCCESS: At first glance, this last fear seems a little nonsensical, doesn't it? Picture the pinnacle of success for a writer: a seven-figure book deal, a big-budget movie offer, a spot on Oprah's Book Club AND the New York Times bestseller list... Who in their right mind would be afraid of that? Someone who thinks about what comes next---how to surpass all those lovely expectations you've set for yourself. After all, you're only as good as your last book, right? How on earth do you top Oprah's book club? What if you run out of things to say and nobody likes you ever, ever again?

  • I'll bet some of you out there are thinking this post is a little...well, depressing for your taste. If so, I don't blame you; it's a bit of a downer to me as well. But here's the thing: our fears can never go away unless we face them. We have to look them square in the eye and not flinch, not even for a second. This is the first step: calling them what they are, giving them a name.

    Part 3 is the hardest part, doing what it takes to move past them. Are you ready?