Posted On May 22, 2013 by Print This Post

The Unrepentant Character with Mae Clair

Help me welcome a new friend to RU. Mae Clair writes strong willed characters – who sometimes talk back!

Mae ClairWe’ve all encountered them. It’s the character you’ve pre-determined will respond a certain way in a given situation, but who ends up behaving differently than planned. As a writer, my initial reaction is often to reel in a wayward character and reassert boundaries of control. Much like a parent correcting an unruly child. Unfortunately, as most kids will tell you, parents don’t always know best. Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.

Let me share a few examples:

I like creating flawed characters, a habit that often blurs the line. My heroes aren’t always heroic. Sometimes they’re selfish, unreasonable, or need-a-kick-in-the-butt annoying. My clever, feisty heroines have been known to get in over their heads and do something stupid. Villains, too, often surprise me.

For the most part I know what makes the bad guy tick and stick to the plan, but occasionally one of them puts his or her foot down and does something completely unexpected. Something decent.

I like villains with depth. More and more, the anti-hero appeals to me. Maybe it’s due to the possibility of atonement in an ethically corrupt character. Or maybe it’s the challenge of molding a character with no moral compass into someone with redeemable qualities. I had that experience recently with an antagonist I’d intended to make utterly irredeemable.  He had other ideas.

Halfway through my WIP, his unique way of looking at things began to grow on me. For all his irritating and selfish characteristics, I liked him. Was this a guy I’d want to pal around with in the real world, someone I’d trust? Eh, probably not. I don’t have it together enough to successfully navigate his chameleon-like personality.

WR Cover for websiteBut in my fictional world, I’m able to pit him against characters that can, including my hero and heroine. He still has the less-than-perfect qualities I dumped on him at the start of the manuscript, but somewhere along the way he developed a conscience, not something I’d anticipate my villain achieving.

Was I disappointed? Was it the first time it’s happened?  Hardly! It still catches me by surprise when a character reaches out and takes control, but I’m more than happy to concede the keyboard when it works.

As individuals, it’s easy for us to form mistaken opinions of people we meet. We do the same with characters. How often have you opened a book, started reading, and had a strong reaction to a character on first impression? Sometimes we’re willing to absorb what makes them tick before passing judgment, but other times, the character prompts a knee-jerk response.

In a manuscript I recently finished, two of my critique partners flagged me on the scene which introduces my heroine. Both thought she was too pushy; neither liked her. Given they sent their critiques separately, I experienced an “uh-oh” moment.

I had intentionally made my heroine outspoken but didn’t want readers to dislike her. It was okay for them to get ticked at her later in the book if/when she did something to upset the story line. By then her motivations would be clearer. Too early in the story, and I risked losing them entirely. So, I sat down at the keyboard, ready to slice and dice the scene.

My heroine, however, remained unrepentant, insisting “I am who I am.” There were reasons she was strong-willed. Hadn’t I given her those characteristics? In the end, I toned her dialogue down a fraction but retained the core of her personality. The scene read better and I didn’t have to sacrifice the key elements of her behavior.

Ftwelfthsuncoverinally, we come to the hero. When he does something sacrificial and noble, we cheer him on like spectators at a jousting tournament. It’s what we expect from our romance heroes. Despite the changes to modern storytelling, I still want a sliver of White Knight in all my heroes. I don’t care if I’m reading a paranormal, contemporary, historical or fantasy. I don’t care how flawed the hero is, as long as some glimpse of fairytale nobility ultimately shines through in the end.

When a hero does do something completely selfish, I’m not ready to abandon him. Either as a writer or a reader. Do I get ticked? Sure. But when I’m emotionally invested, I have to trust he’ll do the right thing. I hang around to make sure it happens, and I’m usually rewarded by my faith.

We think we are master manipulators, creating worlds in which our characters play. In the end it is often the characters who manipulate us, forcing us to change our ideas to suit their needs. They are demanding. Willful. Unrepentant. I’ve discovered I like them that way.

What about you?  As a writer, do you like when a character forces you to reevaluate your opinion of them, or do you try to keep them pigeonholed as long as possible?

In my experience, unrepentant characters have no qualms about upsetting the applecart.

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Okay, here’s your chance to tell us all about your unrepentant characters!

Join us on Friday for Donna Cummings and her lecture on taking advice – or not.

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Bio: Mae Clair opened a Pandora’s Box of characters when she was a child and never looked back.  Her father, an artist who tinkered with writing, encouraged her to create make-believe worlds by spinning tales of far-off places on summer nights beneath the stars. She snagged the tail of a comet, hitched a ride, and discovered her writer’s Muse on the journey.

Mae loves creating character-driven fiction in settings that vary from contemporary to mythical. Wherever her pen takes her, she flavors her stories with conflict, romance and elements of mystery. Married to her high school sweetheart, she lives in Pennsylvania and is passionate about writing, old photographs, a good Maine lobster tail and cats.

Her time travel romance, Weathering Rock is available now through Amazon and all other ebook vendors. Her contemporary romance/mystery, Twelfth Sun, is scheduled for release on August 5, 2013.

Discover more about Mae on her website and blog at www.MaeClair.com

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22 Responses to “The Unrepentant Character with Mae Clair”

  1. Hi Mae,

    It is interesting how characters come to life and talk back. There’s a little Frankenstein brewing in all of them.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | May 22, 2013, 6:44 am
  2. Great post, Mae! I like to pretend that I’m in charge of the characters, but it’s a delusion. LOL Luckily they let me hold onto that while they lead me around. :) The most interesting characters always have a multitude of layers, and I love when an author reveals those. Even when I know how hard it makes the writing process for the writer!

    Posted by Donna Cummings | May 22, 2013, 7:24 am
    • Hi, Donna! I do love a multi-layered character.It’s a little like peeling an onion, you keep finding another hidden layer beneath. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who gets lead around by her characters!

      Posted by Mae Clair | May 22, 2013, 8:09 am
  3. I just wanted to say it’s a pleasure to be here today. I’m thrilled to make a debut appearance on such a great site with wonderful writers and readers!

    Just to clarify (as often happens with my last name) if you’re looking for me on the web, I’m Mae Clair (no “e” on the end of my name).

    Posted by Mae Clair | May 22, 2013, 8:11 am
  4. Morning Mae!

    I’m the one you get to yell at about the extra “e”….=) all fixed now.

    I think one of the best things about being a pantser is finding out where the characters want to lead…sometimes it’s off the beaten path – which can make the story better, sometimes…well, they need a firm hand to be brought back into the fold. =) But the fun of discovering your geeky beta male really wants to run with the bulls?

    Priceless. =)

    Thanks for posting with us today!

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | May 22, 2013, 8:25 am
    • Thanks, Carrie! And no worries about the “e”, it happens a lot. :)

      I love that unexpected discovery characters throw at us without warning. As you said, part of the fun of being a panster and wholly priceless!

      Posted by Mae Clair | May 22, 2013, 8:37 am
  5. My favorite writer of unrepentant characters is Karen Marie Moning. In her urban fantasy series (plural, now, YAY!), she writes some over the top alpha antiheros that somehow make you love them even as they act like total A-holes, not even alph-holes, just plain old A-holes. Yet I cheer for the heroine to get with them. Crazy! She’s just that good. Her characters are who they are and they make no apologies. I think if I writer can accept their character, truly accept them, that’s the starting point for writing a compelling character journey.

    Posted by Jessi Gage | May 22, 2013, 10:31 am
  6. Awesome comment, Jessi! And now you have me wanting to check out Karen Marie Moning’s urban fantasy series. I love when an author can hook a reader with her characters like that!

    Posted by Mae Clair | May 22, 2013, 12:48 pm
  7. Characters and plots often run away from me. That’s a good thing. It means the story is coming to life – I think so anyway.
    About your critique partners flagging your heroine as pushy, something similar happened to me with the novella I’m currently editing. The best friend was disliked by all. I’d meant her to be a solid sidekick, but apparently she came across bitchy and a possible boyfriend stealer. :) I re-evaluated and toned her down, but just slightly.

    Posted by Emma Meade | May 22, 2013, 3:20 pm
    • Hi, Emma. It sounds like your “best friend” character encountered the same brick wall as my heroine, and we both took the same route – – toning our characters down just slightly. It’s amazing how they still manage to get their way, isn’t it! :)

      Many thanks for the comment!

      Posted by Mae Clair | May 22, 2013, 6:21 pm
  8. A great post as always, Mae. Your characters are always fascinating. I specifically genre jumped to read your first novel due to the depth of your characters.

    Posted by Sheri de Grom | May 22, 2013, 4:40 pm
    • Sheri,I’m honored by your compliment. And the fact you genre jumped for me. You have no idea how fantastic that made me feel!

      Characters definitely make a book for me and, as a writer, I invest the bulk of my time on them. They make or break a story!

      Thanks for your comment…and your compliment! :)

      Posted by Mae Clair | May 22, 2013, 6:23 pm
  9. Hi Mae,

    I’m a big fan of characters who cross the boundaries. But whether they’re unrepentant, unlikeable, or even scary, every character has a soft side or an Achille’s heel. A serial killer may sleep with a teddy bear.

    Thanks for joining us today.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | May 22, 2013, 7:27 pm
  10. What a fun post! I’ve had this happen once, when a character who was supposed to stay on the sidelines insisted on having her own POV, which led to her own subplot. She’s one of the most unusual characters I’ve ever written and, boy, was she fun to write! (Of course, she pretty much put the words in my mouth – or should I say on my fingertips – so it didn’t seem like work at all!)

    As to the heroes, I think you’re right – I enjoy reading about a hero’s white knight tendencies the most when it goes against the grain of his character. When he pulls that knightly behavior out of himself for the heroine – love it!!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | May 22, 2013, 11:34 pm
    • Hi, Becke. What a wonderful story about your sideline character. SHE definitely had a mind of her own, LOL. I like how you described her as one of the “most unusual characters” you’ve ever written.

      And yes, I love when the hero turns all White Knight for the heroine. It must have something to do with all those fairy tales I read as a kid! :)

      Posted by Mae Clair | May 23, 2013, 12:42 pm
  11. I absolutely love it when my characters assert their personalities and say and do the most unexpected things! For me, that’s one of the most exciting moments in creating a story.

    Posted by Reese Ryan | May 23, 2013, 6:25 am
    • Hi, Reese. It’s amazing, isn’t it, how they jump in and enforce their personalities on us. I’ve had great subplots happen as a result, even as I’m thinking, “Whoa! Where did that come from?” My character, of course, LOL!

      Thanks so much for commenting! :)

      Posted by Mae Clair | May 23, 2013, 12:44 pm
  12. 4. It is amazing how sometimes a character bring something else to their development. It adds texture and realism to how they are portrayed within the story. And I agree with you that sometimes I find myself forgetting that the bad guy in a story is actually a bad guy. I think that is because we are more than just good or bad, we are a combination of the two and or decisions and concise determine how far we may go towards the dark side. Even though that side does have cookies; it is not always the best side to be on. I really enjoyed your article and look forward to future ones. Cheers!

    Posted by Margaret Bowlling | May 26, 2013, 8:55 pm
  13. One of my protaganists decided he loves the f word.
    I hate cursing. -.- But then I simply cannot write him then, because he won’t be censored. And he doesn’t like to act proper–I originally based him off my guy friends at school, but he’s BECOMING a guy friend from school. o.O Well, a mix of them.
    And all my characters have completely threw me for a loop, down to the one with the sacrifice.
    There’s even been surprise family trees!
    Glad I’m not the only one, and it really is fun to see where my Frankencharacter leads.

    Posted by Allison | June 5, 2013, 6:19 pm

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