Author Topic: Who Rules: Story or Character?  (Read 4031 times)

Offline superpsycho

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Who Rules: Story or Character?
« on: April 13, 2014, 04:01:29 AM »
I've heard more than a few authors say that once their characters are fully developed they often will take over and drive the story and plot. Others prefer the characters, no matter how well developed, stay within the original borders of the story.

The preference may be dictated by the degree the author outlines their stories or if he just starts from the beginning and lets things happen from there. And certainly well developed characters in a series would govern any new story lines an author creates to avoid having them go against type.

Do your characters come alive and rule or does the story? Will a character cause you to change a story or plot in the middle of a book because it's something the character (as you've developed it to that point) would not do?
 
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Offline The Deposed King

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Re: Who Rules: Story or Character?
« Reply #1 on: April 13, 2014, 06:04:06 AM »
I've heard more than a few authors say that once their characters are fully developed they often will take over and drive the story and plot. Others prefer the characters, no matter how well developed, stay within the original borders of the story.

The preference may be dictated by the degree the author outlines their stories or if he just starts from the beginning and lets things happen from there. And certainly well developed characters in a series would govern any new story lines an author creates to avoid having them go against type.

Do your characters come alive and rule or does the story? Will a character cause you to change a story or plot in the middle of a book because it's something the character (as you've developed it to that point) would not do?
 

For me I would say that as I get going, I've gotten a whole lot more structured.  So the characters pretty much go where I tell them at this point.  At least in my main series.  But then I'm also not slavishly plotting out their every move before hand.  I've got goal posts and way stations along the way pre-plotted out and a few key interactions and telling lines I want to put in there to inform the story in the direction I want to go.

That said even in my largest series, where I need to do the most preplotting for the next book I'm writing, I still find myself laughing as the character goes or does something in a direction I maybe didn't envision.  But its mostly small stuff, but despite that it is still generally things I will take and build on and weave into later books.

Now when I'm first starting out with a new book or story.  I know where I want things to go and I start out writing it.  However starting off learning a character in a way that lets me write and not write a boring info dump that no one, not even myself, are interested in reading, sometimes things will go in a surprising direction.  but after a while things settle down.  My characters don't hijack my stories.  But sometimes to get a fun story you have to abandon a few of the original ideas along the way and insert others. 

Its more a case of finding something good, when the alternative is writing and rewriting something boring but completely in line with your original idea until it sings.  Sometimes its easier to just take the gold and run with it.

In my personal opinion, the more experienced you get as a writer the more your characters will just do what you orginally planned.  Its a case of being a better writer.  thus when you get to a potentially sticky situation you can write your way through it.  Where a more green and inexperienced version of myself would probably have become stuck and wrote something funny and humorous that changed things slightly so that I could keep pounding my way through the book.  Going deep into a series, where you don't just have to keep your original idea pure but also tie everything in that happened over 4+ previous books, also restricts the kind of hijinks you can allow your characters to get into.

Now, fully conscious of people like Neuro, pointing out the special and unique butter fly effect.  I will add that I think most people most of the time will find their characters becoming more and more obedient as they write.  But that of course some people put their characters in a straightjacket and plot everything out to death and gone first, allowing for no hijinks from their characters.  While other people are probably almost pathalogically incapable of writing a story that they already know the end of and what's going to happen along the way.

But once again, most people, most of the time, will have better and more full control over their characters as they go along.

But that's just my 0.02c.




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Re: Who Rules: Story or Character?
« Reply #2 on: April 13, 2014, 04:09:36 PM »
This is a false dichotomy for me.  I get my characters in the first place by saying "I have this story which will need a person who will make this set of decisions in these circumstances, what would that person be like" so for that character to become someone who won't do what the plot demands just isn't going to happen.
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Offline superpsycho

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Re: Who Rules: Story or Character?
« Reply #3 on: April 13, 2014, 05:14:03 PM »
This is a false dichotomy for me.  I get my characters in the first place by saying "I have this story which will need a person who will make this set of decisions in these circumstances, what would that person be like" so for that character to become someone who won't do what the plot demands just isn't going to happen.
While I design characters for a specific role, there is always some variation in both story and character, enough that they do affect each other to some degree. Just like events shape a person, so do events in a story shape a character.  But I avoid letting a character affect the original story too much. I want them making tough decisions that would go against the grain. The inner conflict of those decisions and living with the results often are the difference between a decent story and a great story.

I don't want to create robots that go through the motions, the story dictating every move. As I write each character, I become that character trying to decide how am I going to handle the situation that confronts me. If I'm having difficulty deciding how a character would react then I'll seek advice from the person who is close in personality to the character I know. If the character is a child then I'll ask one of my grandkids.

The object of a story is to capture and impact the audience; getting them to be involved with a character, feeling for them and rooting for them.
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Offline LizW65

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Re: Who Rules: Story or Character?
« Reply #4 on: April 13, 2014, 08:58:22 PM »
...I get my characters in the first place by saying "I have this story which will need a person who will make this set of decisions in these circumstances, what would that person be like" ...
The first book in my noir mystery series evolved this way; now that I know the characters a little better I feel as though I have more freedom to create a variety of stories which they can then participate in, without being forced into specific roles.

My first attempt at urban fantasy, on the other hand, appears to be taking the opposite tack. Both the story and the characters--especially the latter--have evolved into something quite different from what I originally imagined. I had no idea, for example, that my Angel of Death would turn out to be a talkative eccentric, or that the other AoDs on his team would decide to stage a coup d'etat against him. And the story has completely changed from a vaguely Rear Window-ish thriller to something altogether more fantastical. About the only original idea I've kept in is having the protagonist recovering from a major illness and being (mostly) house-bound.
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Offline Wordmaker

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Re: Who Rules: Story or Character?
« Reply #5 on: April 14, 2014, 12:20:21 PM »
I very much believe in taking responsibility for what I write. The story and characters are what I want them to be. I make changes because I realise one choice will work better, or a different action makes more sense based on what I've established so far, but that's all me. If I want to change something, or have the plot go a certain way, I'll make that happen, and change what I need in order to make it work.

Offline superpsycho

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Re: Who Rules: Story or Character?
« Reply #6 on: April 14, 2014, 01:20:20 PM »
I very much believe in taking responsibility for what I write. The story and characters are what I want them to be. I make changes because I realise one choice will work better, or a different action makes more sense based on what I've established so far, but that's all me. If I want to change something, or have the plot go a certain way, I'll make that happen, and change what I need in order to make it work.
The key line: "change what I need in order to make it work." Often we have the beginning, ending and then a series of scenes that get us from one to the other. It may be something that's formally outlined or just in our head. In the beginning, we have the basics of our central characters roughed out, then as we move through the story they develop based on events.

If we have a character where it was convenient they be afraid of heights for a scene or two, we can't very well have them on the edge of a building in scene seven without some overwhelming reason. And even if we write in a good reason, their fear can't just disappear. It has to be dealt with and agonized over, which means their actions aren't going to be fast. If in the original scene they are running across building tops without a thought, then we have a problem.

To make it all work, something has to change, either rewriting the scenes so they aren't afraid of heights or rewrite the scene where they're jumping across buildings without a care in the world.

Moving from scene to scene, developing subplots and establishing motivation can cause a character to develop a personality. That's not a bad thing, it can bring a story to life. But it sometimes leads the story in a direction we originally hadn't intended, so we end up having to make things work somehow.
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Offline Quantus

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Re: Who Rules: Story or Character?
« Reply #7 on: April 14, 2014, 01:21:04 PM »
I take a very iterative stance on writing, so its a bit of both for me.  I always need at least an outline framework to start from, which includes the generic roles my characters will need to play.  But when I come back around to writing the actual scenes, the characters grow and develop in the details and quirks along with the details and quirks of the scenes themselves, and sometimes a new idea will grow out of that that will take me long a different path from what I originally intended, but still int eh direction of the milestones on the original outline. 

I will say though that setting also plays a big role in this question.  It is much easier to simply spawn some characters and see where they take you when the setting is already clearly established (either because of contemporary/historic accuracy or because you are working in a well-established fictional world).  But with new and unique settings, you have to spend time telling the story of the World as much as you are telling the story of the Characters journey in that world, and so it takes more coordination to interweave. 
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Offline Wordmaker

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Re: Who Rules: Story or Character?
« Reply #8 on: April 14, 2014, 01:26:03 PM »
To make it all work, something has to change, either rewriting the scenes so they aren't afraid of heights or rewrite the scene where they're jumping across buildings without a care in the world.

Great example. In fact, I'd say to keep the fear of heights and re-work the scene to accommodate it. Having a character forced to confront their fears in dangerous situations is awesome!

Offline superpsycho

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Re: Who Rules: Story or Character?
« Reply #9 on: April 14, 2014, 05:11:35 PM »
Great example. In fact, I'd say to keep the fear of heights and re-work the scene to accommodate it. Having a character forced to confront their fears in dangerous situations is awesome!
What makes a good story is the conflict, not just with a villain, but with our own human nature. Fear of heights, dealing with crowds, being shot at, being shot, anything and everything depending on the character. If we plan a story out so far and with so much detail that there are no surprises, we can miss the accidental conflicts that can occur between a character and the story as we write it.
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Offline LizW65

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Re: Who Rules: Story or Character?
« Reply #10 on: April 14, 2014, 07:04:31 PM »
While working on the climactic scenes of The Sequel, I discovered, somewhat to my surprise, that deliberately writing myself into a corner, setting the scene aside overnight, and then coming back to it worked quite well. In the past, I've gone out of my way to avoid putting characters into impossible situations from which the only apparent escape is 1. death, or 2. some sort of ridiculous deus ex machina, but I found that after a short rest period a third, more workable solution inevitably presented itself.
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Offline superpsycho

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Re: Who Rules: Story or Character?
« Reply #11 on: April 14, 2014, 07:12:43 PM »
While working on the climactic scenes of The Sequel, I discovered, somewhat to my surprise, that deliberately writing myself into a corner, setting the scene aside overnight, and then coming back to it worked quite well. In the past, I've gone out of my way to avoid putting characters into impossible situations from which the only apparent escape is 1. death, or 2. some sort of ridiculous deus ex machina, but I found that after a short rest period a third, more workable solution inevitably presented itself.
Sometimes that's all it takes is a good night sleep or a chance to dream all the variations in the wee hours of the dawn in that mid-state between being awake and being asleep.
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