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Who’s In Charge?

by Maureen Lang

I like walking our dog for exercise, so I set a fast pace. But if my dog were in charge, we’d stop at every “interesting” scent and visit every dog we pass by. And if a bunny crosses our path-look out for an unplanned hunt!

As much as I love indulging my dog, my exercise regime would be a disaster if I weren’t in charge. I’ve learned that to achieve any goal, it’s important to have the right person in charge.

For writing a novel, who is the right person to be in charge? One might assume it’s the author, but the best choice is our POV character.

With my newest release (All In Good Time) I originally envisioned my antagonist as mostly nasty. What could be more expected? But from the moment he stepped on the page, he did things that made me suspect I’d merely misunderstood him. He could stand in the way of my heroine’s goal, still get in the way of the romance, but could do so for a reason that might seem innocent-at least in his own estimation. By giving him a goal that most people could understand, if not sympathize with, he is still a foil to the story and yet he’s believable as a person because he’s not all bad.

One thing I’m convinced of: those scenes where the characters take charge are not only easier to write, but the whole story seems to have a life of its own. Readers connect to characters who seem “alive.”

How do you hand over control to your characters? Here are a few pointers:

1. Know your setting. Character traits often come from how they see or use the details naturally around them, and unique elements are found in particular settings. This is especially true for historicals, but is certainly important in a contemporary setting as well. Knowing what your character will see, what’s important to their daily routine, current events (without going into too much detail on subjects that have nothing to do with your story) will flesh out your character, lending them more power to take over.

2. Know your character’s background, even if you don’t include all of it in the story. Authenticity comes with knowing more than what’s on the page.

3. Don’t lose sight of each character’s goal. Focus on that and let logical action fitting both your setting and theme draw the path the character will naturally follow.

4. Give your character a specific quirk, weakness, strength or personality trait and be consistent about revealing it in varying circumstances.

5. Do you hear your character’s voice? If you can hear it in your head, it’ll be easier to capture on paper. Perhaps your character is based on someone you know, or even an actor. Allow yourself to daydream, because that’s how stories progress: in a daydream.

What helps you to lose control of your characters?

Maureen Lang
Maureen Lang writes stories of history and romance. An avid reader, she figured out at a young age how to write what she feels like reading. Author of ten Inspirationals, her work has finaled in a variety of contests, including the Christy, Carol and Rita. Visit her at www.maureenlang.com or http://www.fictionfinder.com/book/detail/2294

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This entry was posted in Advice, Authors and writing, Characters, Friends of ACFW, tips, writing. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Who’s In Charge?

  1. Ron Estrada says:

    It takes a few re-writes of the first chapters, but I use those to develop my protag. I cannot sit down before writing and fully develop my characters. I write the scenes, then ask why. Why would he react that way? What happened in his past to make him think that way? After a month or so and many moments of running to my notebook to jot down the latest revelation, my character appears and becomes proactive. I’ve found that if I start with the rest of the book to early, my protag just lets things happen to him. Not good!

  2. Maureen Lang says:

    Hi, Ron,

    Your experience is much like mine! I’ve found the first chapter of every project the one that gets rewritten the most, simply because the actual writing process reveals the character to me in greater detail as we go along. Once I know the character, they take over – and the only way for that to happen is to see them on the page. So I ask those same questions along the way, and soon their actions are more natural and I turn into someone who’s taking dictation from them. :-)

  3. Rachel Hauck says:

    Great blog, Maureen. So true!

    I don’t lose control of them but a few times I’ve had a character walk into the page and insist on doing something different.

    One was for the books with Sara Evans and I wanted a walk on, throw away character to just come into Jade’s shop for a job interview. Instead, she wanted to say, “Asa is not Max’s son,” and the more I tried to say, “You’re interviewing for a job, the more she said, ASA IS NOT MAX’S SON!”

    So I went with it. Called my editor. Called Sara. Talked it out and sure enough. That character walks on page one or two of the opening of Love Lifted Me. I’d has her at the end before but now she became a very exciting beginning!

    Rachel

  4. Maureen Lang says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Rachel! That’s exactly what I’m talking about…
    :-)