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Ask an Author: When a Character Comes to Life and Takes Over

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I must confess that the title of this feature sounds like an episode of The X-Files probably because of my obsession with the show and its recent revival. Regular Sahar’s Blog readers know that although the show has basically taken over my life in recent days, I’m still sticking to my regular posting schedule, including the latest edition of the increasingly popular Ask an Author feature.

Rest assured however; there is nothing paranormal about the answers to this question. Rather, it’s an issue related to work technique. As you might infer from the answers, some of us are more logical and methodical in our approach to creating characters, while some of us are emotionally invested to the point of our characters becoming our friends.

You might have guessed the question that was posed to our authors by now: do they find that characters take on a life of their own and overtake their lives? For me personally, it depends; if I choose to immerse myself in a story I am writing (to the tune of 8-9 hours a day) then definitely, the story and its characters take over my thoughts at all times. But when I only spend my obligatory hour a day writing, the characters take a backseat to, well, chores, errands, and the such. But all my characters always live in my mind to a certain extent, and random things will remind me of them at sometimes the most inopportune moments (exam time…)

Lee Murray

In my heart I feel I’m not a natural writer – not like some of the other writers here ‒ so my characters don’t often to speak to me. Not typically. At least, not until I know them really well and that doesn’t tend to happen until after the book is written. More often, dragging the thoughts and fears from my characters is like hauling water from the bottom of a deep well; I get there eventually, but not without a lot of hard work. But there have been times when I have had an idea for one of my characters and they have refused to play along. For example, I once wanted a heroine to cheat on her boyfriend. She refused to do it. “I’m not that kind of girl,” she insisted (yes, this time the character was riled enough to talk. Actually, she spat it at me in a rather indignant fashion). “I’m prepared go as far as contemplating it,” she said, “and I might even get myself into a slightly awkward and compromising situation that could potentially be misconstrued as cheating by observers, but don’t ask me to cheat on my boyfriend because I just can’t.” Please. It would really spice up the plot. “Too bad. You want spice? Get yourself another heroine.”

F.C. Etier

Yes, my characters become autonymous, but they won’t overtake my life. I still hold the pen, or rather, it’s my fingers that stroke the keyboard. One of the joys of writing fiction is to create characters and turn them loose. They often surprise me. I do, however, write their dialog by “getting into character,” and play that role while writing. My dialog has garnered accolades and I believe that is why. I discuss this in an interview on YouTube, at the 3:53 mark where I address the topic of character control.

Lynn Voedisch

My characters definitely have a life of their own. I think people who obsessively outline their books cannot understand this, but I have characters who almost knock on the door and want to be let into my story.

I had one guy literally do that. He blocked my protagonist on the way out of his apartment building! So, I had to let the guy into my story. He turned out to be one of the most popular characters in the novel.

The novel BTW is now on my publisher’s desk awaiting approval. I think it will go well, as he liked it before but wanted me to rewrite the end. He’s a little behind with all the rush of the holiday stuff just behind him, but I’m sure he’ll get to my novel soon. I’m already working on a new one! (And, no, these characters haven’t come to life yet.)

Meryl Stenhouse

I wouldn’t say the characters overtake my life. They don’t talk to me, for one thing. But they will have conversations with each other, often when I am in the middle of mundane tasks like washing up or driving. They’ll also put on plays for me, and some of my favourite settings have come about from walk-on moments with characters.

One of the main characters in the novel I’m working on first appeared in a steam carriage sitting opposite her husband, and her first thoughts were, “He was a good man. Why couldn’t she love him?” I knew then that she was going to be a tragic and interesting character, and she hadn’t even been on the character list until then.

The story I’ve just sold to Black Denim Lit, ‘The Corpse’s Legs Arranged So Prettily’ had a similar start. Marissa appeared on the landing outside her apartment, fumbling with her keys, the sweet-hot scent of death in her nose. I didn’t know who had died or what was happening, but I was willing to follow Marissa around to find out.

So, yes, I agree that characters do take on a life of their own, and that’s what makes them interesting.

Hunter Marshall

So far the only book I’ve written as well as my work in progress are based on actual events and real people although the names, dates and places have been changed. The characters come out as the way I either remember them being or how they are. For example, in my WIP the main male character is based on my best friend, both as the way he was when we were kids as well as how he is now. In Wake Up! Based on a true story of abuse and betrayal, the male character is the way that person has always been.

A.J. Ponder

As an author, I’ve worked with many headstrong characters. But the ones who are really difficult are the ones who decide that since it’s their story, they’re going to write it. My first fictional co-author was an old curmudgeon, who took a long time to realise that girls really can do anything. And still insists on using old-fashioned floral language, and notes to his students whenever he thinks he can get away with it. Most recently, I was happily writing about a young genetic engineer, Miss Lilly Lionheart. She was creating cute, but very dangerous animals in the hope of escaping an evil mastermind’s bunker, when Lilly decided she had other plans. Watch out for her diary entries, they are nothing but pure manipulation.

As for overtaking my life, my characters are generally confined to the story they’re in. Unless one of them is terrible at spelling and grammar. In which case, I’ll blame them for any occasional lapses. After all, why not?

Our full roster of authors, in alphabetical order: Angela Barry, D. Odell Benson, F.C. Etier, Jean Gilbert, J. C. Hart, Hunter Marshall, Catherine Mede, Lee Murray, Karo Oforofuo, A.J. Ponder, Meryl Stenhouse, Lorene Stunson Hill, Lynn Voedisch, and Sybil Watters.

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