Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Characters with an agenda

I have immersed myself in story since I don't know when. I used to run around my house with a toy gun, pretending to be an FBI agent. I had a real mashup of toys growing up so The Purple Pie Man married my beat-up, The Dog Ate My Feet Barbie and regularly put together schemes to destroy my other Barbie who lived in the My Little Pony stable and raised ponies with her adopted children, Huckleberry Pie and Lime Chiffon, of Strawberry Shortcake fame.

I didn't really ever play house.

The characters never changed. The bad guys stayed bad and the good guys stayed good. Occasionally Dog Ate My Feet Barbie would have a guilty conscience and secretly save her sisters behind The Purple Pie Man's back, then he'd get all pissed and she'd come running back to him, begging forgiveness.

I had this whole convoluted thing, and eventually these characters I made up became somewhat real to me. I think I tried to make the Purple Pie Man a good guy once since I didn't have any Ken dolls, but eventually he went bad again, without my really having to work at it.

I think this is what we mean when when we say that our characters tell us what to do. You can try to control them, but The Purple Pie Man can no more be a hero than Skeletor. It's how he's made. When you're that ugly and your girlfriend has no feet, you just don't have compassion in you. Although you'd think all those pies would make him happy, but maybe he's just sick from the sugar rush.

I love it when you give your characters a back story and set them on a path, and along the way you find yourself writing dialogue you don't really understand, and then suddenly you learn something. A week or so ago I was writing up an action scene and my character ended up killing a man in a far more brutal way than I anticipated. And I had to say, why did she just bash that dude's head in with a tree branch?

And I said, well, this guy represents how helpless she feels most of the time. The only time she feels in control of her own life is when she's fighting, and this guy is a lot of the reason why. Of course she bashed his head in. What else could she have done? I had developed her so much in my head I had to reverse engineer her reasoning to figure out why she behaved that way, just like real people.

It's kind of weird when you think about it. We make these people up, but we don't always control their movements. It's one of the great joys we get as writers.


  1. Or, one of the things that makes us feel totally, quietly, insane. ;)

  2. That brought back memories of a definitely lead-based plastic figure I had as a kid. "John Wayne", as we aptly named him, would drop by Barbie's camper. His indian sidekick would often tag along. I won't say what they did in there but your post makes me feel okay about it now, lol.


Please leave a name, even if it's a fake name. And try not to be an asshole.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.