Having Characters muddling around in your head is a little like trying to raise children at times. In fact, one could go as far as to say that they are your children, or well brain children at least! You start out with them all fresh and new and exciting and they’re obedient little things that do what you want. And that’s great, they don’t know who or what they are yet and you can help mould them on their way to success within your story. In an ideal world, you’d be able to just prod and poke these brain children of yours into position and tell them what to do, where to go and what not to do.
However, the reality is that soon enough your brain children, your characters will develop a mind of your own. You’ll face the tantrums of ‘no I don’t want to do this’ or ‘I’m doing that’. You get times where you think you know a character, only to find that you’ve had them all wrong from the first moment that you had them. You know, that moment when you find that they’re cute and adorable … only to come to realise that they’re a mass murderer. Yeah, been there, done that, go that t-shirt.
And then there are times where they will go quiet. That moment where you have the figurative five year old and there’s silence. That’s the moment you start to worry. Either they’re doing something they shouldn’t, plotting something they shouldn’t or there’s something drastically wrong. It could be any of those things – or a whole host of other things. There’s no way of telling until they’re ready to divulge their secrets to you. You have to learn to be patient, not push it and just accept that when they’re ready to tell you they will. Usually in the middle of the night, or some other equally important time.
This is one of the problems, being a writer. You are never as in control of your own story as you would like to think. You have an end goal, you know where you want to be but sometimes no amount of planning will help. In fact, sometimes the more you plan the more your characters rebel in that teenage fashion – throwing a tantrum and leaving a whirlwind of destruction in their wake. We’ve learned not to plan too extensively for that reason. We plan, we’re the losers in the end with our characters grinning smugly at us knowing that once more they have their way and nine times out of ten know that they will carry on having their way.
You try and argue the point, tell them to do as you want them to do. And that backfires, they stop working and you’re faced with a blank page, no words and a character that stubbornly refuses to do as you want until you give in. Sometimes you can compromise with them (a little like the “mom can I have x, y or z” and x, y or z can be agreed providing your child cleans their room or some other such task), and sometimes that doesn’t even work! There are just some days where you know you have to throw in the towel, go to bed and retry again the day after until eventually, both you and your character are able to come to an agreement!
For us, it’s a little trickier. There are two of us writing with each of us having a set of characters that inter relates with the others. We have to navigate these challenges and be mindful that we don’t upset the other’s character balances. It’s a skill that we’ve learned over the years, but even now it’s still far from easy. If one of us isn’t around and the other has a problem with a character that we need the other’s input in? We have to wait it out until they’re free. Sometimes that can take days between work and family commitments – something our characters don’t always take too well to.
And yet, we’ve managed to come this far with it even if there are times when one or both of us will feel like we’re doing 75% of the parenting and taking on both mother and father roles in bringing up both sets of brain children. But eventually things settle down, both sets of characters are happy and we can carry on writing … at least until the next teenage tantrum that we’re faced with!
So no, writing isn’t easy. It’s not simply a matter of producing words on a page, you have to deal with these voices that are a living and breathing part of your story. If you don’t deal with them right, if you don’t “bring them up” the way that they need to then they’ll throw everything out of the pram and you will have to start again. But the reality is that no matter how old your characters are, no matter how simple or complicated they are and no matter how stable you think they are that’s never quite the case. You’re never done bringing up these brain children, they’re always going to need guidance and comfort. And there are times you will sit there and laugh or cry and feel the wide range of emotion that you’re putting onto the page, through your characters.
But in the end you know that it’s worth it. To have that final achievement of being able to get to the end of your story and to know that you’ve succeeded. That you’ve finally reached the point where your characters are all grown up, developed and that the story is complete. After all, isn’t that one of the many things writers aspire to?