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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Evolution of Character

Many successful authors of creative fiction recommend outlines of plot and characters before beginning the story. It’s a wonderful idea for keeping a writer on track with the storyline and for fleshing out the details of a story’s cast of characters. For many writers, already knowing the details of their characters, like description, history, associations, and motivations within the story can enrich their writing, giving depth and atmosphere to the story.

Yes, outlining is a great idea. I highly recommend it as a writing tool. Unfortunately, I am just not built that way. For me, the fastest way to kill a story idea is to work out the details of a plot and characters in outline form first. They die a swift and horrible death in the dry, analytical environment of the outline. By the time I get to that first page of writing, there is no magic left, and I have to let it go.

Don’t misunderstand me—I don’t begin totally from scratch, sitting down to a blank page with not a thought in my head on plot or character. I make general sketches, and I find it necessary to keep notes as the story progresses to remind myself of crucial details and keep a logical progression of the story. But for me, the magic in writing is the unexpected evolution of both plot and character. In my writing world, this evolution is driven by the characters.

This might make me sound a little psycho, but I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve begun to write with a story direction in mind and had it go in a completely different, unexpected direction due to the unfolding dialogue and actions of the characters. I’m the creator—I’m supposed to know where this stuff comes from, but that’s why I call it ‘magic,’ because these twists and turns take me as much by surprise as they do my readers.

This is why I love to write so much. It fascinates me to watch the story unfold beneath my fingers, to see the characters grow and change before my eyes. They begin as two dimensional figures and blossom into beings that are so real to me that I can almost believe they are alive. (See Character Talk on my website for proof ;)

Some might argue that this makes my story very two dimensional at the beginning, but here’s the beauty of editing—I can always go back and flesh out the characters and storyline, or hack and slash as necessary. This writing method affords me all the creative joy without the life-sucking, mind-numbing effects of the formal outline.

However, I can’t recommend this method to every writer. My brain works in strange, mysterious ways, and what works for me might drive another author to drink or ruin their writing experience. To each his or her own! Me, I’m into evolution.

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