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