How much free will do you allow your characters?

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How much free will do you allow your characters?

Mar 2, 2020, 7:16 am

I'm far more a 'pantser' than a plotter, and try to make my characters free-willed.
Recently I watched a video from Jenna Moreci "10 Worst Types of Writers" ( about the types of writers who most get under her skin.

While I mostly agreed with her, #9 (at the 5m20s mark) was "Writers Who Are Controlled by their Characters".
Her problem was mainly with the writers who say "My characters won't do what I want them" to excuse problems in their writing, or not writing at all.

I probably take a pretty extreme stance here because I don't consider my characters purely imaginary, and have to write them true to themselves even if it forces me to alter the story or even the plot. I feel a well-written character can be as real to a reader as someone they'll only ever see on TV or in a film, for example.

What do you think?

Mar 2, 2020, 9:17 am

>1 ljkendall:, you want consistency in characterization, but if it's steering your plot sideways then you do have the option of adjusting the character, rather than reshaping your plot to suit the version of the person you've created on your first attempt.

Editado: Mar 2, 2020, 9:35 am

"I work slowly on a novel for the first few chapters only. As soon as I can hear the characters talk, it then becomes a race to see whether I put down their actions fast enough not to miss any of them." --Robert A. Heinlein (letter to to Blassingame, March 16, 1946, in Grumbles from the Grave, 43)

That's not my process, but I don't write the sort of fiction Heinlein did.

Mar 2, 2020, 1:02 pm

I probably wouldn't like Ms. Moreci's fiction if she believes in man-handling her characters. That's #1 on MY list of Worst Types of Writers.
I'm a planster. Liquid plan that I allow my characters to evolve with and alter when necessary. If have several times run into conflicts with their preferences/interests, and ALL those instances worked out for the better.
-I made a love interest for my main character, yet she hit it off with his brother instead. Worked out cool as a side-plot.
-I wanted a nice love-making scene in a pool. My female lead was dreaming of one day being able to swim (she's a vampire). Once she got into the pool she chickened out, and ...whoosh, pool scene over. They made love elsewhere, but the pool panic was endearing to her character.

>ljkendall, listen to your heart and your characters. They'll steer you right.

Mar 2, 2020, 1:03 pm

>1 ljkendall: *sigh* I have a problem with people who demand that there is only one true way to write. In fact, watching the James Patterson Masterclass turned me off him and his writing, because he insists the only way to write is with an outline.

Videos like the one referenced is another good example.

You need to write what works for you. Not what someone else says is the "right" way to write.
I admit that I had stories that I could edit, but wouldn't move forward. Even with adjusting the character to fit my desired plot. But sometimes, the plot has to change with the change in character. Otherwise, you might as well stick with the original character. Those stories moved when I changed my personal views of the character and now they won't shut up.

There is more to the excuse "The characters won't talk to me." It's just shorthand for many other psychological roadblocks built into writers block.

Mar 3, 2020, 8:56 am

>5 gilroy:, I agree there's multiple ways to write, it's why we recognize pantser vs plotter. As a writer I know my preference is plotting.

As a reader I can't usually tell which way the writer went (that's a good thing); but when I can, and it's clearly pantser, I get annoyed with the "making it up as they go along" feel. If they don't know where their story is going, why should I care.

Mar 3, 2020, 11:43 am

I would argue that there are more methods than pantser and plotter. I'm in between. When I polled other authors, I found quite a lot like me. Some call us plantsers.
And in regard to knowing which kind of method the author used, if the reader is aware of the author's hand, it's usually bad, regardless of method.
Yes, I can tell sometimes if authors plot too heavily. They force issues, manhandle characters etc. Turns me off.
Equally, a pantser meandering and not fully tying things together, or getting off on wordy, unfiltered tangents also turns me off.
Either way. Whatever method you use, try and keep your hand invisible and the characters consistent. :)

Mar 3, 2020, 1:03 pm

I adore unfiltered tangents.

Mar 3, 2020, 1:42 pm

>8 paradoxosalpha:, when it's done well, sure. Neil Stephenson, Umberto Eco, Laurence Sterne, or some other notable exception.

Mar 3, 2020, 3:47 pm

>6 Cecrow: I fully agree with the sentiment that seeing the author is a bad thing, unless the author is the omniscient narrator and you're supposed to know them. But those aren't done well in modern novels.

Mar 3, 2020, 4:29 pm

>9 Cecrow:

I was thinking of Thomas Pynchon in particular, but those are all good picks!

Editado: Mar 3, 2020, 10:23 pm

>2 Cecrow: you do have the option of adjusting the character
For me, there's no way I could bring myself to adjust the character, except for inconsequential ones. Since you qualified your point with "the version of the person you've created on your first attempt", I suspect that's not too far from what you were thinking.
>5 gilroy: Even with adjusting the character to fit my desired plot. But sometimes, the plot has to change with the change in character.
That made me consciously realise I'm okay when something happens that brings a new way of seeing a character, that reveals something deeper about them.
As a pantser, I'm pretty comfortable with changing the plot.
>7 jeffschanz: I agree you can't put writers fully into boxes! As a way of setting up ends of a spectrum I find pantser and plotter very helpful. If a pantser produces something badly plotted, I'd say they hadn't been tough enough in the editing stage. For me the plot is almost of equal importance to the characters. It's the interaction of those two elements that produces magic I think.

Some of you might find this other video interesting, where instead of having a single plot-related dimension (plotter/pantser) the speaker adds a 2nd dimension "methodological/intuitive" (conscious of literary theories and writing or plotting methodologies, or just going by instinct), so authors can try to see where they might fit on a broad plain instead of onto a line:

Mar 4, 2020, 7:26 am

>12 ljkendall:, nope, I just go ahead and reorient the story's hero if need be. I'll switch up the backstory or whatever it takes.

You can be true to the character (as you prefer) or the story you set out to tell (as I prefer). To make the two things align, you can change either one. There's no sacred cows, it's only a matter of making it believable that this person does that thing.

Editado: Mar 5, 2020, 2:28 am

>13 Cecrow:
Fair enough! It would be a horrifyingly boring world if we all agreed on everything.
When I posed the question originally, I expected there'd be some who prefer the plot-first stance (as you do). I found your reply reassuring to be honest.

The higher level points you make, that you need to make character and plot align, and that you must make it believable "that this person does that thing", I agree with you 100%.

Mar 5, 2020, 8:33 am

As a reader its definitely the belivability that's key - we don't know the plot that you're 'being true to', but can immediately tell if a character's making stupid decisions. I don't mind the wrong decision, as long as it's justified why they believed it was the best at the time. Characters shouldn't know the future either!

Mar 9, 2020, 11:10 pm

>14 ljkendall: "Fair enough! It would be a horrifyingly boring world if we all agreed on everything."

Amen. :)

I usually say that I'm ambidextrous when it comes to plotting or pantsing. The internal story fabulator doesn't seem to care much if it's making the story up in advance or as I go.

But even though I think I give my characters their heads, at least they frequently do things surprise me, they somehow never mess up my plots.

On the other hand, I usually am pretty stuck with BOTH my characters AND my plot (once I have it). Even books I haven't yet written a single word of, are still very, very resistant to me changing my mind about anything.

Mar 23, 2021, 2:10 pm

For a mystery or thriller, I would imagine it would be easier reverse engineer the plot. Start with the Calvanistic end, and re-engineer the various cogs and subplots to supply the necessary twists, knowing that they could not upend the intent. Perhaps.

Mar 24, 2021, 11:44 am

>17 smirks4u:
I have actually been told that quite a few mystery writers do work that way. :)

I've been wondering if I could/should do this for short stories. Come up with the twist at the end, and then work back to setting up the twist. It isn't my usual way of working, so it might inhibit my subconscious story fabulator a bit... but if I'm trying to write shorter than I usually do, that would be an advantage, wouldn't it?

Mar 24, 2021, 3:22 pm

>18 LShelby: My collegiate attempts at writing were stymied with too much writers' block. My engineer friend suggested I load three, one-gallon jars with paper slips. One jar would be all nouns, another verbs, another adjectives. It sounds like a great party game as well. I understand that a musical composer once used an 'orchestra' of various radios. Each instrument would have volume crescendos or decrescendos, or would be turned to alternate music stations or to static. It's a little reductio ad absurdum, but it reflects the disconnect between Neil Young's Transformer Man. One is Neil using music to pretend to be an AI unit. The other are various AI cogs, pretending to create a symphony without sympathy.

Mar 24, 2021, 7:43 pm

I'm definitely a panther when it comes to SciFi. I do have a basic plot that I try to follow, but once my characters are developed they become alive. The character tell me the story, and I try to keep up. Often I stop writing, look at my fingers and say, "Where the hell did that come from!" I am motivated to write, just to find out what is going to happen.

Mar 24, 2021, 8:02 pm

>20 GaryBabb: In the law enforcement world, one often tasks a person with a few 'drops of that blood' to fight that certain crime. A childhood fire bug may be the future fire marshal. A latent car thief may later be the best shepherd dog in that area. Likewise, I think that any good writer of character development has to be able to almost manifest as multiple personality. I get the vibe that they are an octopus who does not let one hand know what the other seven are doing at any one time.

Mar 27, 2021, 9:45 am

>19 smirks4u: "My engineer friend suggested I load three, one-gallon jars with paper slips. One jar would be all nouns, another verbs, another adjectives."

In a startling coincidence, I had just been contemplating making myself almost exactly that same set up. It wasn't to cure me from writer's block, though. It was because I was contemplating writing something set in a culture where giving buildings flowery names was the norm. I was thinking that I would have the hardest time coming up with that sort of thing all on my own, but maybe if I could create a random flowery name maker...

>20 GaryBabb:
Do your characters ever get stuck and you have to come up with some clever way to throw them a hint?

>21 smirks4u: "Likewise, I think that any good writer of character development has to be able to almost manifest as multiple personality. I get the vibe that they are an octopus who does not let one hand know what the other seven are doing at any one time."

I love this description!

As a writer, I tend to make life easier on myself, by not having the protagonists keep too many secrets from each other. This way, at least three or four of the arms are working in concert.

But it's also because I really really hate stories where the only thing driving the plot is two otherwise sympathetic characters working at cross-purposes simply because they haven't explained what each is doing to the other. One of my writer friends liked the use the term "stupid plots": plots that only exist because the protagonists are behaving stupidly.

This is one area where I really, really have a hard time giving control to my characters. I hate watching them do anything I know to be unwise.

Mar 27, 2021, 12:47 pm

This kind of links back to my thoughts on outlining.

Basically, I know where the plot needs to go but I don't let the outline control me. If my characters decide they need to do something unexpected, I'll let them and adapt my outline accordingly.

Does this affect the plot itself? Sometimes. But so far in only good ways. If you're surprised by your characters' actions, chances are your reader will be too.

>22 LShelby: "As a writer, I tend to make life easier on myself, by not having the protagonists keep too many secrets from each other. This way, at least three or four of the arms are working in concert."

Yeah, me too LOL. I have a bad memory, so although I love intricate plots, I know I'd get myself intro trouble if I tried to weave something like that. Or, if I did, I'd have to make sure I kept close track of all the details. Probably through a spreadsheet. I'll have to think about that.

OTOH, everyone has secrets, and this should be true with characters too. But those are different, as they are personal and won't affect the plot as a whole. And when/if they do share them with someone, it tends to add a bit of extra dimension to those characters.

Mar 29, 2021, 11:08 am

>22 LShelby: So glad you liked it. Broken clocks are right twice a day. Wait twelve hours. Maybe I'll rinse and repeat.
My more primordial ooze attempts at writing came up with another procedure. I was angry at myself when my character developments did the pendulum swing between cliché and prosaic. In an effort to break my predictability, I wrote down who the characters really were; then re-wrote them as their embryonic selves making random knee jerk actions. I would build in head fakes of lunacy, because not all people are made the same. It became a Machiavellian effort to make the relatively good guys and girls a little bad; and vice versa. I make a garbage can oatmeal cookie, (salsa, chili...) . I basically dump everything in my fridge into a blender and find a way to make it work. I try to put a little shredded carrot, currants, pitted dates, etc. into the characters to tease them from their (my) two-dimensionality.
Have a great day!

Mar 29, 2021, 11:11 am

>23 slarken: I had never thought about an Excel spreadsheet! That, frankly, has a big pearl of genius in it. I always wondered how long-running script writers, (a la NCIC, Britannia, Big Bang) kept track of all the loose Raman noodles in their product.

Mar 29, 2021, 11:55 am

>25 smirks4u:

I think it's gotten to the point where long-running serials with multiple writers have someone whose job is specifically checking continuity for that sort of issue.

Mar 29, 2021, 12:52 pm

>23 slarken: " If you're surprised by your characters' actions, chances are your reader will be too."

I remember Patricia C. Wrede saying that the first however many ideas people come up with, tend to be cliched. So it makes sense to me that when the character surprises the author with something, it's usually a good surprise.

The protagonist of my fantasy epic surprises me fairly often, although always in ways that don't seem to mess up the plot. I usually think its because he is the protagonist, but not the viewpoint character, and so I don't spend as much time inside his head as I normally would for a protagonist.

But maybe it's also because his story is longer, and so he has more chances to come up with less cliched ideas?

>24 smirks4u: "In an effort to break my predictability, I wrote down who the characters really were; then re-wrote them as their embryonic selves making random knee jerk actions."

This sounds fascinating, but I'm not sure I know how to have my characters make "random actions". Does this involve another jar full of slips of paper?

I am sometimes a bit worried that my good guys are too good and my villians too... superficial?, not because I've been getting complaints (I'm more likely to get complaints that my main characters are too competent), but just because it seems like something I would have problems with, based on my personality.

I do know that at the very least, the characters behave differently, because I have this game that I play in my head sometimes, where I take a situation from one of my stories, and I shove a character from a different story into a nearly-identical (inasmuch as the setting allows) situation, and see what they do differently. But I still think the choices they make are good ones. (I tend to believe that there are almost always multiple equally good choices to be made.) So that particular game doesn't help me stop worrying.

Maybe I need to come up with a new game. "Under what circumstances would character x do bad thing y" or something like that?

Mar 29, 2021, 1:55 pm

>25 smirks4u: many of the established authors with long-running series do something similar for keeping track. Although usually on bits of paper/notebooks because the excel might not have been commonly around when the series started. Occasionally they'll put out appeals to the fanbase/email list/website to ask did they ever specify minor characters' hair colour, or how many floors the palace had, so that later books remain with good continuity. It does annoy readers who sometimes can be more obsessive than the author about such things if they're wrong.

Mar 29, 2021, 2:15 pm

>25 smirks4u:
Oh spreadsheets are amazing. I use them for tons of things.

As far as writing goes, you can do glossaries, outlining, character cheat sheets and all sorts of other cool stuff ;)

And I also use one to keep track of my writing every day (number of words, time spent, etc.) which is great for motivation AND for keeping stats on your progress.

Mar 31, 2021, 10:50 am

>27 LShelby: A true life incident pops to mind. I had a super strong uncle. Today, he would likely be termed hypoglycemic. He could do the work of two men, but when he does not eat, he becomes a different character. Milking cows at 0530 is not for everyone. When the only water source at the pump house was inoperable, men arrived to help fix it. It was well after the 1100 dinner (lunch) to which he was accustomed. Pipes were cut to length and fittings were ready. My uncle said, "Let's go eat." The others said they had to go to the shop to get the vice to thread the pipe sections. My uncle clamped each piece of pipe with his hands. They poured oil on the ends and threaded that pipe. That is Cromagnon, knuckle-dragging strong. Normally, he was gentle as a lamb. A character cannot be homogenous. They have to say stupid things when they are tired, or on decaf the first day, or distracted with their teenager's shenanigans. That is my take anyway. There is a tedious book, The Tactics of Mistake. I like the granularity of thought the author put into analyzing the science of mistakes. Very Machiavellian.

Mar 31, 2021, 10:54 am

>29 slarken: Nice. I seem to remember Samuel Langhorne Clemens would lie in his bed and write. His assistant would pop in and out bringing food, beverage, supplies, books; and ferry away the pages to be typed. At one time, as the story went, the assistant exclaimed a new record of pages that 'they' had produced that day. Mark Twain got his eyebrow convention started and corrected the assistant that 'they' had not done it; he had.

Abr 1, 2021, 2:25 am

>22 LShelby: LShelby: (Do your characters ever get stuck and you have to come up with some clever way to throw them a hint?)

Oh, yes! I even sometimes paint my characters into a corner, honestly, just to see how they react. But, it's the character that is writing the story from their perspective. To me, this is the best part of writing ... challenging my characters.

Abr 1, 2021, 9:13 am

Sometimes characters surprise me! You can write an outline and get a plan for them, but at some point they tell you what they're doing. It can be distracting when I'm reading someone else's book if the characters start talking. I have to pause and let them finish before I move on with my hopes and guesses for what will happen. Sometimes it works out well, sometimes I'm frustrated by the characters going "the wrong direction." I've found myself reading more non-fiction since I started writing. I have to really get into something to not start editing in my head.

Abr 1, 2021, 1:36 pm

>28 reading_fox:
My sister is one of those obsessive readers. She has an excellent memory for detail, and she notices slip-ups.

>29 slarken:
I don't use spreadsheets, I have my own custom built database. :)

>30 smirks4u:
Great story about your uncle!

One of my characters has a "super-power" that is biologically powered and sensitive, so in addition to being disrupted by certain circumstances, it also just randomly stops working. I never dare have it fail when it would be plot significant, because it seems like to me like the reader would feel like I'm cheating. So it just causes her small annoyances, and is mostly there for flavor.

So I know that not everyone can be at the top of their game all the time, but I find it hard to write it. It's not that none of my protagonists ever act at a level below their best, but that in general they tend to be a very competent sensible lot... except for...

Oh, my! I just had a realization.

I say that I'm ambidextrous in the plotting vs. pantsing department, and usually that's true. But I have one heroine whose stories I have never been able to plan out in advance.

I think I may have just figured out why. She isn't sensible. I can't figure out what she'll do in advance, because almost everything she does is spur-of-the-moment, and "it seemed like a good idea at the time" and to make things even harder on me, she really doesn't care if she dies. So from my pov, everything she does is "not wise". So I have to be right there, in the moment, and fully inside of her head in order to figure out what she's going to do.

I guess you could say that everything she does "surprises" me. (I mean, I'm never actually surprised, but that's because I never had any expectations of her in the first place.)

And, now that I think about it, most of the other surprises my characters have given me are similar in nature. They say, "I am now going to do something that isn't as sensible as you'd like" and I say "must you?" and they say, "Yes, I must, because I am me, and that is what I would do." The reason it never derails the story I'm expecting, is because ultimately those characters are too determined to succeed at what they are trying to do to allow their own weaknesses to overcome them.

>32 GaryBabb:
I feel like I do the same thing you describe doing, but that I look at it from the opposite direction.

I create the world, the situation and the antagonists in order to insure that there is plenty of opposition, and from there on in, everything I'm seeing myself as doing is done to help the protagonists overcome that challenge. Under normal circumstances they don't actually seem to need much help. But every once in a while, I need to hand them a clue, or throw them a rope. :)

But, I was the one who created the world and the situation and the antagonists, so technically I am the one challenging the characters.

>3 paradoxosalpha:
Hi there Wendy!
Thanks for joining us. :)

What you are describing fascinates me.
I don't usually have other people's characters start acting independently of the story that they are in for books.

But when I get really, really frustrated with some aspect of a drama I am watching, I do occasionally start spontaneously "editing" the story. In one case, my "this would be a far better ending" that I came up with registered so strongly that it was the ending I remembered when I came back and rewatched the show several years later, making me very confused when the real ending started playing instead. Eventually I managed to figure out what happened. More recently, I found myself creating a puppet show that I apparently really wanted the protagonists to put on. It was a bit Shakespearian of me: "The play is the thing to catch the conscience of a king". Only in this case the king wasn't guilty, he was just being really, really stupid. And I guess I really wanted to have someone point that out to him. I wanted them to have the puppet king say "I know, I'll marry my long lost son to the daughter of the man who just tried to have him executed. That's sure to make him happy." "You are sure about that?" "Of course. They've known each other for forever." "And the fact that he has known her very well for a long time and still doesn't want to get married to her holds no significance to you?" "Absolutely none. She behaved very well during the ten minutes I spent with her, so clearly she'll make an excellent wife."

But anyway, that I do this for dramas and not for books suggests to me that my experience reading a story is significantly different than my experience in watching a story acted out. But for you there maybe isn't so much of a difference?

What could that difference be, though?

Abr 1, 2021, 7:37 pm

>LShelby That's hilarious about forgetting the ending you had made up.
I do see images play in my head when I read a novel. I guess I kind of convert them into movies.
I also did the imagine ahead thing with text books. I would pause and try to work out how an experiment would be done for what they were talking about, and guess the results. Unfortunately, it made studying for tests/prepping for classes slower than it should have been. When I wrote exams I knew the beginning of my books and notes very thoroughly and some topics not at all because I didn't get to them. Not a good technique for cramming in the large volume of facts needed for university studies, but it was good practice for writing science fiction.

Abr 2, 2021, 12:53 pm

>34 LShelby: "I don't use spreadsheets, I have my own custom built database. :)"

Oh I have one of those too! LOL. But the spreadsheets are more convenient for some stuff. They are for me, anyway ;)

Editado: Abr 5, 2021, 10:35 am

>35 WendyGamble: "I do see images play in my head when I read a novel."

I actually don't. But I'm not entirely certain why the presence or the absence of pictures would make a difference.

Maybe it's about this:
>35 WendyGamble: "I also did the imagine ahead thing with text books. ... Unfortunately, it made studying for tests/prepping for classes slower than it should have been."

Maybe it's about speed? Because I don't try to process the information in books as a movie, maybe I'm effectively "seeing" it in fast forward, and so I just don't have time to come up with alternate possibilities, but when I'm watching a show I am locked into the speed that it is displayed at, so my mind has time to wander off into alternate branches?

But that is totally a guess. :)

>36 slarken:
I guess I find playing with the database more fun?

Also, I like the control I get over how that output looks, since the database is all run via own hand-coded website. I am particularly fond of the family-tree display. I enter a character's parents in the database, and tah-dah, four generations of relatives automatically discovered and displayed.

Someday I will write code to randomly fill in family trees as desired. But first I need to finish the major code overhaul currently in the works.

Abr 18, 2021, 11:13 am

>37 LShelby:
re "Maybe it's about speed? Because I don't try to process the information in books as a movie, maybe I'm effectively "seeing" it in fast forward, and so I just don't have time to come up with alternate possibilities, but when I'm watching a show I am locked into the speed that it is displayed at, so my mind has time to wander off into alternate branches?"

Interesting theory. I don't try to process books like movies, it just happens. I tend to read slowly, unless there's a reason I have to do it quickly. I take it all in, think about it. If characters click a certain way, they start talking in my head. I tend to repress now that I write my own stories, as I feel like it's a waste of mental resources.

Alas, same idea with roll playing games. I used to enjoy D&D, was excited to move up levels etc., but now it seems sort of like wasted writing, to generate dialogue and such that is temporary, and in a copyrighted world.

I haven't played computer games really since the days of lemmings. Loved that!

Abr 21, 2021, 10:32 am

>38 WendyGamble:
I still find D&D and other tabletop RPGs a lot of fun, but I don't like to expend energy DM'ing them anymore, unless I'm working from a published module.

The last campaign my kids started was kicked off when I was in the middle of my latest health crash and doing a pretty effective zombie imitation. The kids didn't invite me to join.

I still do enjoy puzzle-solving type computer games (be it Lemmings or Myst), but I play them very rarely. Mostly I play simple logic games like Free Cell (okay, actually Towers, but it's not as well known) Minesweeper or Sudoku as a way of killing time when my brain is too dead to read (or write, of course, since that's harder.) But if I have the energy to create, I'd rather be writing. Or art or music or coding.

But I resemble your "in a copyrighted world" line...

When I first started writing, I started writing a Star Wars story, but I invented all new characters and all new settings. Next I started a Pern story, with all new characters and all new settings.

A few months I asked myself, "Why on earth am I writing in someone else's universe, if I'm doing all the work by myself anyway?" :D

Editado: Maio 2, 2021, 6:06 pm

when I try to write a story(I'm mainly a poet). my character has their own voice that helps me figure out what action they may take.

Maio 2, 2021, 10:40 pm

>40 vegetarianveggie:
So basically the character just does whatever they want?

Is this the story that is based of Alice in Wonderland? Did you have a particular plot in mind when you started it? For example is it supposed to follow the plot of the original at all?

Fev 15, 2023, 9:32 pm

"Her problem was mainly with the writers who say "My characters won't do what I want them" to excuse problems in their writing, or not writing at all."

People actually say that? This almost break my brain. I honestly can't stand petty excuses like that. There's only one reason: they don't know how to write their characters.

>5 gilroy: If Patterson honestly thinks that way, then he doesn't appreciate literature. It's at the point now to where I'd only ever check out his works because he still has talent. But I'll bet plenty of people on websites like this can list some examples of books that didn't have an outline.

I might only have one novel published, but I do believe that the true secret to writing a great novel is to rely on your greatest strengths to carry out the other basics of writing. Example: I relied on my ability to develop cultures, worlds and characters, and I used them to progress the plot by putting them in conversations often pertaining to all three. And then I'd use the results of those discussions to plan what the characters would do next.

People don't have to believe me, and for the sake of improvement, I hope they can offer something I can really learn from. But the way I see it is to be a great writer, you don't have to "master the basics." You have to be good enough at the basics for the traits you have mastered to drive them until the end. This might not create a "perfect novel," but it can certainly make it a "better than good" one.

Editado: Fev 16, 2023, 8:12 am

>42 MythButton:, mostly agree. The idea that fictional characters have any kind of free will is nonsense. They are your own fictional creations and only do what you decide they do. Wording the question differently, I would understand: does your growing knowledge of this character begin to suggest they would actually behave in a different way than what you intended for them to do, according to your outline?

Which only brings me back to what I said in >2 Cecrow:, that at this point you can either acknowledge you didn't develop the character you ought to have for your outline to remain as is and now you have to rework the character; or you can review your outline to see whether the character you've instead created could lead to outline changes that will improve on your story. One of the two is inevitably the better choice, even odds being it's redeveloping the character. If you choose to let the character you've created stand 100% of the time (i.e. submit to its "free will"), I'd lay 50-50 odds you're making the wrong decision.

Sometimes there's no outline, so you're free to do that. But this is why I prefer architecture to gardening. You'll never know if there was a better story to tell than the one you end up with. What you're counting on is making that character great enough, sympathetic enough, interesting enough, that they can carry the reader along to wherever the story goes. Maybe that works, if plotting is your weakness anyway, but it seems like a scarier thing to rely on.

Fev 16, 2023, 10:45 am

Every human being is familiar enough with various personalities due to their surroundings, so there's already one way in which it's easier to write multiple kinds of stories. The real challenge is matching those personalities up with the type of plot and the type of world you create.

Fev 18, 2023, 4:30 pm

>43 Cecrow: "The idea that fictional characters have any kind of free will is nonsense. They are your own fictional creations and only do what you decide they do."

I can't say this is untrue, but I can say that the author isn't necessarily aware of making those decisions -- the decisions can and do happen at the subconscious level.

If you are not aware of the decisions you are making on behalf of your characters, then the conscious experience is essentially the same as if the character was making the decisions...

...or at least it would be if all your characters are telepaths. Otherwise the lack of physical sound is kind of a hint that yes it really did come from inside your head somewhere. ;)

>44 MythButton: "The real challenge is matching those personalities up with the type of plot and the type of world you create."

Once again this is something that can happen at a subconscious level. I personally don't spend much time actively thinking "What kind of character do I need to drive this type of plot?"

Do you? I'm kind of curious as to what the conscious process of matching a character to a plot would look like.

Fev 19, 2023, 10:26 pm

>45 LShelby: It depends on the story. Nialoca was invented to subvert fantasy tropes, so each character was a subversion of the types of tropes you'd see. For example, Losa and Nula are generally light and darkness (or more accurately, metaphors for society's perceptions of "good" and "evil"), so they absorb into each other through their draconian guide Zinit, who can't talk but is still the driving force of the adventure. That's why I named him after "zenith," meaning "the time in which something is the most powerful." Despite this, his infant form is another subversion as his form is not powerful at all, but he is still very important. The mercenaries who join them on their adventure are subversions of other common tropes. My personal favorites are Drubo and Pia, members of two different races who are subversions of the "skulking creature" stereotype through being the smarties of the mercenaries, Drubo being the analyst and Pia being the mechanic.

However, Losa and Nula's growth as they travel with each other is the real plot, as they both bicker and debate the truth of morality and the popular perception therein. By the time they make peace with each other, they've absorbed into each other enough to positively affect the mercenaries who join them soon after their growth. So while the side-characters are still treated like side characters, they wouldn't have won if Losa and Nula hadn't grown up.

Fev 20, 2023, 7:23 am

A passive character will let the plot happened to them; an active character (what you should be writing) will guide that plot. In order for it to unfold as desired, what would the personality of that character have to be like? What would motivate them, make them behave this way, guide them in that direction? What do they want to achieve? For selfish or selfless reasons? What is their character arc going to be, such that it coincides with the plot they are driving? That's plot first, character second.

If character is first ... could be anyone, any random personality that amuses you as an author. What would you like to see them achieve? How will they achieve it? Then you make a world around what that character is going to achieve ... I guess? I'm stumped by the character first, plot second approach.

Unless ... unless it all amounts to the same thing. A story about getting from 'here' to 'there', which determines character factors, is the first plot outline, and suggests the kind of fantasy world it takes place in.

Fev 22, 2023, 3:36 pm

>46 MythButton:
That sounds a little foreign to me. I've never had a character who was a metaphor.

I've gotten the impression that you are a theme-centric writer. :)

I'm not. I'm character-driven-plot-centric. Which is different from being plot-centric, in that I don't start with a plot and pick characters for it, and is different from being character-centric, in that I never end up with a bunch of characters in my head that I need to figure out what to do with. For me it is the "driven" part that is the center of how I work.

So if the story you were describing was one of my stories, I would have started with the idea of a character who is trying to "absorb" two other characters into each other. (I confess that I'm not sure what that means.) Where they are would be largely determined by why the absorbing has to happen. I would need to have a setting where that was necessary, but presumably difficult.
... and I'm really, really having trouble imagining myself ever saying "X and Y's growth is the real plot", so I just got stuck. ::rueful::

For me the plot would have become the demon's clever contrivances to bring the two of them together?

Fev 22, 2023, 3:59 pm

>48 LShelby: Having characters absorb into each other is one of many ways for characters to develop. Theme is an optional focal point, just as everything else is. I'm not usually a theme-central writer, but Wings of Nialoca has a lot of social commentary attached to it, so using characters as ways to express and grow from that commentary is only one step of the way, justifying theme's necessity. All that was left was to put it into action, and that's how Wings of Nialoca's plot progresses.

Hover, it must be noted that Losa and Nula are not deliberately "trying" to absorb each other. It starts with them trying to change each other's viewpoints in life. Losa is the ambitious teenager who believes in an objective morality, whereas Nula believes that morality is adjustable based on the survival-of-the-fittest mentality of the contemporary apocalyptic world. The end up making strong points with each other, and upon their opinions changing they become different people.

Fev 24, 2023, 4:40 pm

>48 LShelby: "Having characters absorb into each other is one of many ways for characters to develop."

Check me if I've got this right. The two characters come from completely divergent viewpoints to eventually share common ground?

Fev 24, 2023, 6:40 pm

>50 LShelby: Yep. Because the major theme here is that people take "picking sides" to an extreme, and end up confusing varying opinions with outright evil. So I kept the two main characters seventeen-years-old so that they would be just on the verge of adulthood by Earth standards, even though they would technically already be adults as considered by their own Quilish culture. That wasn't something I spent a lot of time developing, though. It kinda just came to me, so I kept them 17 throughout the whole novel and just focused on detailing their views of the world. Zinit the infant dragon (or "vayilon") acts as the mediator for the two through whatever means he can, despite the fact that he cannot talk. Basically, they didn't really have a choice because they had to save the world, so I kinda cheated in the morality factor there, but it represents my honest viewpoints: don't assume an opposing viewpoint is evil, because since no one is perfect, no philosophy is perfect, thus the majority of people are both good and evil. Coming together, they're able to challenge the actual villain, who can be compared to truly evil people like Mussolini, Hitler, etc.

Basically, the moral of the story is, don't get carried away with your beliefs. Fight it at a young age so you don't become a jerkwad later, such as, for example, Frollo from Hunchback or Sorbo from God's Not Dead, both villains who represent a kind of person that's not necessarily common in either belief system (belief in God and atheism), but does have a few people scattered in both systems.

The whole reason I wrote this kind of book is because I am friends with and have family who are all over the philosophical spectrum: conservative or liberal, Christian or atheist, etc. etc. But online so many people just want blood and law, so I took a couple cues from the messages of the film Metropolis and expanded on it (best silent movie ever btw). I don't buy that "this other side is completely evil" stuff and I never have, since I have friends in all places. Hell, one of the members of Slayer is a Christian, so I get tired of teenagers online telling me I have to side with them.

Fev 25, 2023, 4:03 pm

>51 MythButton:
I'm in the friends in all places situation too. :)

To pretend to pull the thread back on topic: If you want to write good characters, it probably helps to talk to lots of different kind of people.

Fev 25, 2023, 4:05 pm

>52 LShelby: I especially can't get behind most things with poorly developed characters. I know I've seen Battle: Los Angeles for example, but the characters were so boring that I don't even remember watching the movie at all.

Fev 26, 2023, 2:54 pm

>52 LShelby:
For me the prize for most disappointing character would go to Edward from Twilight. But that's because I at least I remember being disappointed.

I have also watched shows and read books where afterwards I'm scratching my head and going "I recorded a completion date, but I can't remember a thing!" :)

Editado: Mar 5, 2023, 12:10 pm

>7 jeffschanz: I consider myself a pantser because I don't prepare a formal outline. I feel like preparing an outline will stifle my creative process and restrict my characters' voices. But it is not like I have no outline, it's just in the back of my mind. Also, after I complete a chapter or long scene I take stock and let the story guide the direction of the sub-plots within my over-arching outline in the back of my mind. I find this approach allows me to write content I never imagined at the outset, which is inspired by the characters' developing personalities and interactions. I also write in what someone a long time ago suggested to me as 'green light mode', which means don't edit until you are done for the day. These approaches really negate tendencies towards writer's block. It also means I write a first draft that is more of a skeleton, and I put the meat on the bones during editing. My second draft then ends up almost twice the length of my first. In this way, I do use my first draft as an outline, so the second draft has more guidance and drives more plotting in the back of my mind. The outlines I tend to write are more about what I already have to keep things straight as I pantser on. Also, I may write down a few key words about a potential scene or line that comes to me in the shower or in the middle of the night. Reading the key words sparks a memory of the new direction or key line I might add. Perhaps this makes me a plantser, but for dialogue, I let my characters do the talking.

Mar 7, 2023, 10:13 am

I'm a pantser until my subplots get really developed and I then find I need to outline how all the clues and things will work together time-wise. In my first book, One Bad Day After Another, I knew that my character in London would need to find a clue at a certain time, but when I was typing a short scene with him, he said, "I'm sitting in the Air Canada lounge at Heathrow, my plane leaves in a few minutes." What? I shouted at the monitor. Back space, back space, back space. No, you can't go to Ottawa. Well, I couldn't change his mind. So, I let the character, charmer that he was, have his way. Turned out he was absolutely right. I think when characters do stuff like that, it's our subconscious taking over, and since it usually knows things we don't, we should go with them.

Mar 7, 2023, 2:08 pm

>55 TBird58:
I don't think jotting down a note, especially if its just a line of dialogue, or some key words. Should mean that you aren't a pantser. If I were to quibble over your status, it would be because you have outline in your head.

I can understand how not writing the outline down encourages fluidity. :)

But I'm wonder about your "green light" mode. Does not editing encourage you to veer away from your mental plan?

(I wouldn't expect it myself, but I've learned the range of ways that writers work is bigger than one would expect. Foe example, P.G.Wodehouse claimed that his notes/plans could be significantly longer than the the stories they were for.)

>56 mysterymax:
But everyone clearly ought to visit Ottawa at least once. :) (Okay, maybe not, but I did think Ottawa was astonishingly pretty for a city.)

"I think when characters do stuff like that, it's our subconscious taking over"
Fantasy author Roger Zelazny's advice on this subject was "Trust Your Demon". :)

I have gotten in arguments with my subconscious at times, though. So I guess I don't always think the "Demon" knows best.

I remember my daughter pointing out that I'd used a similar plot device twice, which I was okay with, but then I realized that one of the stories in my head also had the same device again, and I said "twice is enough" and insisted to my story fabulator that it come up with something else. The new plot was much slower in presenting itself than plots usually are for me, but it came.

I also decided that the pov character in a story was "too angry" once, giving the book a tone I didn't like. I was 30K words into the story, but I discarded what I had, and re-started from scratch. ::rueful::

Does telling a character that she needs a personality make-over counts as not allowing "free-will"?

Mar 8, 2023, 4:41 pm

>57 LShelby: It was more using the first draft for a guide to the much longer second draft that might qualify me as a Plantser. As for 'green light mode', it really encourages fluidity, and I would often drift from my original mental outline. For example, I knew my story, Antunites Unite, would end with a revolution, but I didn't know whether it would be a quiet one or a big battle. I didn't plan to write flashbacks, but they just came to me. I also didn't know a MC would die near the end. In fact, this MC didn't even exist in my mind when I started, but turned out to be the character that drove along the plot the most. BTW, I was born in Ottawa, and it was a lovely place to grow up. There's a common joke that it's much too boring for adults. Although I disagree, I moved a couple of hours down Hwy 417 to Montreal for work.

Mar 11, 2023, 2:11 pm

>58 TBird58: "As for 'green light mode', it really encourages fluidity, and I would often drift from my original mental outline"

I am finding this fascinating largely because it is simultaneously foreign and familiar. I usually (but not always) have a plan in my head that I am following...

... but I have never had to tell myself "don't edit, don't edit" because I usually don't anyhow. And when I do, I'm probably diverting further away from my original plan, not trying to drive myself back on track. (As Lois Bujold says: the author should always reserve the right to have a better idea.) The sooner I insert my new better thought, the less rewriting I have to do, so of course I do it now even if it means I have go back and change a few things.

But using a first draft as a guide is something I am currently interested in because I have this 260K word script that will probably be more useful if it was four books.

Do you just read and edit in the file as you go, or do you start a new file and rewrite everything?

"I was born in Ottawa... I moved a couple of hours down Hwy 417 to Montreal for work."
I on the other hand was born in Montreal, but essentially haven't been back since. (Not on purpose, just because it there hasn't been a particular reason to make it worth the trip.) When I was born my father was there attending college, and he and my family returned to southern Alberta before the birth of my younger sister a year and a half later.

Where I live now is apparently "too boring for college teens/college students". My kids didn't seem to realize they were deprived -- we had a library! And um, a park, and... I think that's it. But the library is what counts, right?

Mar 12, 2023, 2:03 pm

I just read and edit, and incorporate comments from beta readers and developmental editor. I like to get early feedback.

The great part about Ottawa was all the green space and bike paths, decades before they became popular elsewhere.

Mar 14, 2023, 4:44 pm

>60 TBird58:
So far all my edits have been just reading along and making changes to incorporate suggestions or when I spot a problem, like you. (Only apparently not as extensively.) :)

But I did meet someone who has to do extensive changes and he swears by the "open a new file" and start with a blank page method. Now that I am contemplating making extensive changes/expansions for the first time ever, I would love to find someone else that works that way so I can discuss it.

But I think I'll have to just try it out for myself, and see if I like it.

"I like to get early feedback."
Early, by which you mean, on your first draft?

I've known people who like to get feedback one chapter at a time as they write. I wouldn't guess that would appeal to someone who writes in a "greenlight" mode.

Myself, I like my feedback after the first draft is done. But I usually do a first pass of edits to things before I send them out, so that all the minor characters being named ??? can get fixed. I tend to think my betareaders would find that confusing.

What I remember of Ottawa is lots of green, and pretty historic-looking buildings. Both of which have strong appeal to me. But I'm not likely to move there, because even though I would be back in the same country as my family, I would actually be even further away from them. Canada is really big. ::rueful::

Mar 14, 2023, 6:38 pm

Yes, feedback after completing the first draft and minor editing, so it's not overly sloppy.

Mar 17, 2023, 1:55 pm

On the topic of freewilled characters, has anyone here had a minor character jump up and say "and by the way, I also have a story for you to write?"

Mar 17, 2023, 6:06 pm

Not for a sequel, but as I mentioned earlier, I had a minor character step up and become a major character that was the mastermind behind the climactic coup that was the culmination of the story. Although he becomes a tragic figure, he ended up being my favorite character for his commitment to the cause. Originally, he was suppose to be just a mentor with limited role, but he kept popping into my head, both in flashbacks and in things he did that we only discover later were instrumental to the plot. I guess with the name Clay he was destined to take on a different form than I intended at the outset, as I sculpted the full story.

Mar 19, 2023, 4:22 pm

Third book and I ran amok of having a time line error that involved three chapters. I tried fixing it on the computer (cut and paste), made it worse, tried to fix it, made it worse. I finally printed out five chapters, the one preceding the error(s) and the one following. Then I took my pad of scrap pages, my scissors, and my scotch tape... Easy peasy. The problem is, you really have a hard time seeing what's ahead on the computer. I came back, deleted the mess on the computer and retyped the mess I wanted. Sometimes technology is too advanced for the problem at hand, I think!

Mar 22, 2023, 2:28 pm

>64 TBird58: "I guess with the name Clay he was destined to take on a different form than I intended at the outset"

People do keep telling me that names can be dangerous. :)

"he was suppose to be just a mentor with limited role, but he kept popping into my head, both in flashbacks and in things he did that we only discover later were instrumental to the plot"

I have heard other author tell about minor characters taking over books to a certain degree ... Margery Allingham had a minor character become incredibly major in the mystery story she was writing, and ended up writing the rest of the series with him as the detective.

I have been trying to think of anything like this, and the closest I an come is a character that I went back to scratch on the story just so I could add -- so he wasn't in my first two attempts to start the story at all -- ended up having a major role in why a major antagonist was so antagonistic. :)

Your description also reminds me that I have a favorite character in one story who starts the story dead, and is only ever seen in flashbacks. To me, characters who are off-screen are just as much a person as characters who are on-screen.

Is there anyone else out there who was ever particularly fond of an character who wasn't actually there?

Mar 22, 2023, 2:31 pm

>65 mysterymax:
I may need to duplicate your system.
I am in the middle of tearing apart the climax of what will probably end up being a tetraology. Getting it all put smoothly back together is proving challenging.

Mar 22, 2023, 3:48 pm

I'm one of those who can write on the computer but I have to have a physical copy to edit. I just don't feel the words on the screen for editing the same as I do for creating. Not sure why, it's just a glitch. DW has objected to me emptying a printer cartridge to edit a full book at once. :)

Mar 22, 2023, 6:25 pm

>68 gilroy: If anything calls for a "LOL" that does. I've just emptied my printer as well. And yes, the other half doesn't seem to 'get' it.

Mar 25, 2023, 12:12 pm

>68 gilroy:, 69
I think my husband does 'get' it, but he doesn't want to pay for the ink anyhow.

I wonder if there is a generational thing going between people finding it easier to spot errors on paper, and people not? Does it depend on how much time one has spent reading paper, versus reading on a screen? Or does writing on a screen as opposed to reading on paper, have to do with it?

(I certainly make just as many errors when writing longhand, but I think I might favor different types of errors?)

Mar 25, 2023, 9:59 pm

>70 LShelby: I wonder if there is a generational thing

Maybe? My reflex is to doubt it. But certainly those of us who first practiced proofreading on paper find it more difficult in a scrolling-screen medium. The way that a physical page is fixed in the visual space creates habits of thought (i.e. heuristic and validating procedures) that don't transfer to a screen.

I've done a lot of proofing on pages and screens both. Given the option, I'll always prefer to work with a hardcopy. (That's one reason I don't have a printer at home; to avoid the temptation.)

Set 21, 2023, 7:23 pm

My preference as a reader is for "character-driven" stories- where there IS a plot, but the main attraction is watching how the characters respond/react/grow (fingers crossed!) relative to the action. And that has meant that, in my books, the characters sometimes surprise me, but only because their personalities and traits have become more nuanced as the words have accumulated. Therefore, when a protagonist said, "If you want me to resign, say so," that was both in-character and a statement that I had not seen coming until it did. That being so, I had to figure out what happened next. (Which of course means I do not outline, at least not in a detailed fashion. I know the people and their relationships, the setting, and the overall story arc, but I leave myself freedom to be surprised). As a result of that approach, some "minor" characters have ended up being far more important as the story evolves. I see writing, especially fiction, as an "organic" process. Some branches bear fruit; some don't. And pruning is necessary.

Editing on-screen vs. editing on paper. I have always "thought" it was generational, at least in my case. And that can be true of drafting, as well. There is something about the physical act of moving the pen across the page and feeling the slight resistance that stimulates my creativity. (Perhaps it also slows me down a bit, so that the ideas are more fully formed...?) But if I am going to do a serious edit or proofread of anything, I always print it. Some of that is for purposes of "seeing," but it also allows me to do things like make extensive notes and quickly shuffle through pages to check for consistency or plot holes.

Set 23, 2023, 8:10 am

I edit on screen as I write, usually rereading what I wrote a day or two before and making changes, but when it comes to the time for serious edits - paper always.