Monday, January 22, 2007

Ask the Authors: Monday

Welcome back to another "Ask the Authors" week. If you have a question you'd like to ask our authors, send it to Enjoy the week!

Have you ever started writing about a character that as you wrote you found you didn't like? What did you do about that?

This just happened in a book I was working on. It took awhile for me to identify exactly why I didn't like him. Even my editor missed it. I finally realized that he didn't really evolve. He didn't have an arc. Once I put that in, all was forgiven because though he didn't become great or heroic, he did overcome a few bad traits. Then I could identify with him. -Rene Gutteridge

Yes. I had a heroine who turned out too bitter and whiny. And that made it harder and harder to write because I didn't want to spend time with her. So I had to take some time to figure out why she was acting that way, what she was afraid of, what her inner struggles were. As I thought about it, I realized she was like a part of me that was stuck because of a past hurt. Suddenly I not only understood this character, I realized I'd been writing more as catharsis than because it worked for the story. So I had to figure out what really worked for the book, then go back and fix the scenes with her. It was a good lesson to be sure I knew my characters before I jump into the story. And the final story ended up being much better than how it started! So that confirmed for me that we need to listen to our instincts. -Karen Ball

No, I’ve always grown fond of my characters and even start to think of them as real people. If, however, a character became unlikable and annoying, I’d no doubt lose all inspiration to write about him/her. -Ann Tatlock

If possible, I suppose I'd cut the character from the story altogether. Otherwise, I'd explore why I didn't like him/her and "redevelop" the character as much as possible. This has happened to me only once, and I came to realize that the character was too passive, so I worked through it with her and made some changes. She stayed--and was a better person for it! -BJ

Yes. Since I write about real historical people, fictionalized, I'd begun this one story thinking it was a lovely romance, about a man who built this garden and mansion for his wife, though I was intrigued by what kind of a woman would inspire such a place and yet no one talked about her. Then I found out why. But what it made me do is go deeper and try to find out what might have happened in her life to make her choose the things she did. And it turned out to be a book about living with the consequences of our decisions. People either really like that book or they hate it because they don't like "her". But I think she is all of us who want to do the right thing but then don't always and how we seek redemption even until our dying days. A part of me wanted to abandon this story when I first learned about some of her poor choices but I'm glad I didn't. One woman who read that book called me from Ohio and said "This book will change the way I live my life." so perhaps it was written for her. -Jane Kirkpatrick

I assume that you mean you start disliking your protagonist whom the reader is supposed to like and/or empathize with. Thankfully, this particular problem has never happened to me. I always seem to become ever more fond of my characters, even the less than perfect ones. - Robin Lee Hatcher

I always write about characters I care about in some way, even the antagonists. There were some secondary characters whom I discovered I liked enough to give them a story of their own, but I've always cared about my characters. -Hannah Alexander

I started writing about a character I didn’t fully have fleshed out, so “like” may not be the correct word, but the rewrite had to happen or the book couldn’t continue. -Patricia Hickman

No. In fact, this problem has never even occurred to me. I do suppose my most multi-layered, complex character to date was Celia Matthews in my (women's fiction) novel, Color the Sidewalk for Me. (Yes, in the days before I turned to killing people full time.) She could have been difficult to like, for there was much selfishness in her. Yet really, she THOUGHT selfishness, but many times ended up ACTING in giving. I liked her, because I understood her. And that is key. I understood her deep hurts, what made her the way she is. To this day, that novel moves me in ways no other novel of mine has. And it's due to Celia's character. -Brandilyn Collins

In an early novel I had a Lead character I thought was just fine. I was into his inner life and writing away. It was only when others saw it that I got the word he wasn't all that likable. Came as a shock to me, but I learned that you can be so into the writing that you lose objectivity. It's therefore important to me, before I start writing, to get the Lead in fighting shape. And I need to step back from time to time and look with fresh eyes at the character. - James Scott Bell

I very often don’t like my heroine when I first begin writing a new book. It’s very difficult to create a character who is likeable, yet has enough flaws to give her room to grow and change throughout the book. I think the secret is showing the reader why she’s the way she is—what in her childhood or earlier adult life has caused her to behave the way she does now? But even that can be tricky when so many writing gurus advise us to avoid backstory in the early pages of the book! –Deborah Raney

That's happened to me twice with heroines, and in both cases it's because they were too weak (and too whiny!). I went back to page one and started over, giving them more backbone, which also affected how other characters responded to them. With my last novel, I had the reverse happen: I became enamored of a character I expected to hate! In that case, I ran with it, realizing that a slightly sympathetic bad guy creates a much more interesting story. - Liz Curtis Higgs

I have encountered this issue as well as its evil twin—writing about a central character that the editor and/or the pre-readers didn’t like. In such cases, I revise the character with an aim toward overcoming the criticisms. That’s the great thing about fiction; you can change what you don’t like. Wouldn’t it be great if we could do the same with the people in our lives who rub us the wrong way?– Tom Morrisey

Not like my character? How can the creator not like her creation? Seriously--even if my characters do vile things, they have very good reasons . . . from their perspectives, anyway. -Angela Hunt


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