The Manhattan Project--2016 A to Z Theme

Always a work in progress--welcome to my blog...

Monday, April 4, 2011

Controlling Characters

         Are you operating a puppet show or writing a story?  Becoming a control freak when it comes to writing your characters can leave them predictable and stereotypical--or shall we say boring. 

          Outlines and character sketches are good tools to use in shaping your main characters, but don't just stop there.  Give them history, aspirations, and motivation. The reader doesn't have to know every detail--only what's important to the story.  You should know your characters like you know those who are closest to you.  At the same time you should allow characters to make interesting choices and do unexpected things. 

          When Pinocchio was just a puppet he was lifeless and wooden.   When he became a real boy he became interesting.  Now, there was a story to tell.  Perhaps it's time to cut the strings from your characters and let them surprise you as they take on a life of their own.



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98 comments:

  1. I agree. Life is interesting and unpredictable. Therefore controlled events and characters doesn't mimic the spontaneity of people or engage the reader. I would love to write a fiction book in the future, so this is a great tip!
    Social Science Medley

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  2. Great analogy. I use pics to get an idea of my characters too. :O)

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  3. A great c word Lee.
    I usually use myself or life expereiences for my writing.

    Good challenge though only day 3.

    Yvonne.

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  4. Very true. They need guidance but freedom...just like raising kids. A rich history is nice, too.

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  5. It's true. If you over think, or push too hard it shows in your characters. You need to leave a little to your readers imagination and their take on the story.

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  6. hmm..that was a fabulous idea.Reminded me of my puppet
    http://umaspoembook.blogspot.com/2011/04/haiku-puppet.html

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  7. Cutting the strings is really interesting -- even the ones that we tied our own selves where we limit the circumference that we can navigate.

    Here's to breaking free! :)

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  8. Love that picture with Pinocchio, very visually! :-)

    If you wonder, what my thoughts of writing checklists are, have a look at my today's post: C for Checklists

    Wish you a good start into the new week & happy writing!

    Karin @ Nofretiris Dream Of Writing

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  9. Good reminder Lee. It's easy to get trapped into predictability for a character. The fun of reading a good story/novel is in being surprised and wondering what will happen next.

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  10. I always create detailed character sketches before I begin writing.

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  11. I never have control over my characters. I write for about 10,000 words and then they take over. I love it when characters do something unexpected; it keeps me on my toes!

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  12. Good advice and suggestions. I will think about this when I write my next post. Thanks Lee.

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  13. Great advice. Unless your character comes alive in your head and starts telling you what to write, you're not doing it right!

    Ellie Garratt

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  14. I'm going to have to make up a little book of all the helpful hints and tips I am picking up.
    Great post.

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  15. I loved this post! Short and simple with a great point! Thanks, Arlee :)

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  16. In my puppet show, the marionettes are always rebelling against me. Which is all well and good until they find the knife I hid nearby for the end of the third act...

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  17. cut the strings, just don't let them go too crazy :)))

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  18. Keep them on a long, long leash.

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  19. Ah, I cut my characters' string a long time ago! They run wild! :o)

    Jessica @ The Alliterative Allomporph

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  20. i'm working on a story now, i am my best muse... my character is more like me. i've been known to be many things and predictable isn't one of them.

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  21. I'm not much of a writer myself, but I do read a lot. I don't like predictable characters unless I'm reading a series and then I love the predictability, it makes me feel like I personaly know the character.

    Thanks for stopping by. I'm still totally amazed at the amount of participants for this challenge!

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  22. I like to know who my characters are before I start writing, but they always surprise me by the end of the story with the things they think and do.

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  23. good point and i'm having lots of fun with this challenge

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  24. Great tips! I'm new to this A-to Z challenge. Just learned about it and signed up 2 of my blogs. SO i have a little catch up work to do. As requested by your cute white rabbit, I'll leave my links in this comment:

    My Author Blog - www.jgladen.blogspot.com

    Random Thoughts about God
    www.randomthoughtsaboutgod.blogspot.com

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  25. Sounds like very good advice. Keep the characters light and loose!


    Gregg Metcalf
    Colossians 1:28-29

    Gospel-driven Disciples

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  26. I always outline my characters - their background, personality type, motivation, looks, strengths, weaknesses, family & friends...

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  27. Great advice! My characters usually have a lot of backstory. I always doubt myself as to whether I have told enough or too much. It's a balance I am still working on achieving.

    Dafeenah

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  28. I am an actor as well as a writer and I love how character development is so similar across different creative endeavors.

    Am loving this A to Z challenge!

    My entry for today...

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  29. I thank everyone for the comments so far. You are all so encouraging. Now keep making friends, learning new things, and be entertained. I will be by to see each of you before too long I hope.

    Lee

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  30. Great advice!

    My problem is going to far in letting them control me sometimes. They take me off on tangents not related to the story. But it is still useful--I get to know them better, and I get to use the delete button.

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  31. I think I know my characters better than real people in my social circle. I used to have imaginary friends as a child and I recently realized that as a writer - I still do!

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  32. You make a really good point, and one I completely agree with!

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  33. I have a lot of back story, its where to fit it in the story that I struggle with - great post - I'm here from the A2Z Challenge stopping by and I think I'm gonna follow!. http://wordsinsync.blogspot.com/2011/04/z-blogging-challenge-april-2011-c.html Shah. X

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  34. I used to like to think that I was the puppet master but it turns out that the inmates were running the asylum. So now they tell me their story and I put it down on paper.


    M.J. Fifield
    My Pet Blog

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  35. Great point. Love the analogy to Pinnochio. I always plan my characters and know exactly who they were before the start of page 1. It's not necessarily anything I'll include in the story, but it's important for me to know!

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  36. I think that first draft is as much about finding character as it is discovering story. Some writers talk about plot and character as if they walk side by side, but never touch. Never understood that. Plot shapes character, just as certainly as characters move the plot, yes?

    As for cutting the strings--absolutely. I know a story's working when a character surprises me with a word or deed that wasn't planned, but just feels right. Love moments like that!

    Thanks for the post,
    Joe
    Dead Reckoning

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  37. Good analogy. I'm a puppeteer, but no offense taken.

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  38. Good post ... let the characters develop themselves. Often the emerge as the story is written. Minor characters can become major ones and fan favorites.

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  39. I love this; yes, cutting the cord is truly what makes all the difference!

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  40. I love the puppet analogy but if I remember the story accurately, Pinocchio became more interesting when his strings were cut and he was able to be naughty. Maybe it's that we like a bit of spunk in our characters.

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  41. I'll go with that. I enjoy a character that's alive and kicking - so set them free!

    Grandpa
    Life on The Farm

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  42. Great advice! Like that you used the Being John Malkovich cover too. :-)

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  43. being john ... was the weirdest movie.. but interesting.. I have just decided to begin a charachter sketch and outline of a new book I am making up.... so this group of writers may be helpful... this time around.

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  44. Great advice Lee! Characters are like children; you nourish their bodies and souls, and have to know when it's time to set them free.

    Julie

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  45. Great use of C! You are very correct in saying well-rounded characters is what makes the story.

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  46. That is so right and character control is very important, I agree.

    Unfortunately, I guess I'm among those who are doing the puppet show thing because I'm not always interested in the background or history of a character for some of the stories that I create for my films and/or videos.

    I'm usually just interested in the current conflict or task at hand rather than what happened to these characters in the past.

    One of my films that have not reached the script stage yet, has more of that "writing a story" that you are referring to in that one because the main character's history affect his behavior and affect his actions in the present and also influence decisions that he needs to make about the future, so I figure (in my own work)....if it's necessary for the story, then I write a story but if controlling characters are unnecessary, then I do the puppet show.

    Since many of my projects are very short, spanning maybe 30 minutes in length or less, around 10 minutes, I don't always find it necessary to make characters with deep rooted histories and such.

    Nicole
    The Madlab Post

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  47. I love that you used the cover for Being John Malcovich. That movie was really strange but was full of character.

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  48. Love this post. I remember when Jo Rowling was interviewed toward the end of her writing of "Deathly Hallows" and Sometimes our characters aren't even who WE think they are. Like a parent with a child, we need to let them use their wings so they can fly.

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  49. Hehehe yeah... the only puppet when it comes to the writing is me. I'm not operating under the misconception that I'm in control.

    ;-P

    Kidding, I have some control over the story. But I can't make my characters do anything.

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  50. good addition with the Pinocchio thing at the end, I like it.

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  51. Very nice and helpful post. I agree with you,charecters are good if they have a certain direction to go towards. In real life though, we don't like controlling people do we?

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  52. I love the topic of this post--I agree 100%...let the character make their choices and see where the story goes. Fun!

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  53. I really enjoy making outlines and back stories to my characters, but I do try my best to let their stories unfold as I write. It tends to not work though :P

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  54. I've posted my "C" post.

    http://mom2nick.typepad.com/heres_whats_new/2011/04/c-is-for-crayon-color-.html

    Thanks for looking.
    Laura T.

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  55. Sage advice!

    If only I could cut the strings off me - and let "me" take on a life of its own - then we would have a story.

    Smiles,
    Jenny

    www.jennypearson.com

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  56. Donald Maass even says to find something that your character would never do in a millions years, then make him do it. I love that idea...it's like leading your character into a trap and then sitting back to see what happens next.

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  57. I am learning sooooo much already.

    Lisa
    InspiredbyLisa

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  58. Great post on controlling characters and clever to bring in Pinocchio. Hope you're enjoying the challenge!

    Thanks for visiting Columbia. D is for ...?

    Denise<3

    L'Aussies Travel Blog A - Z Challenge Posts

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  59. I have run an RPG campaign for over a decade now, and I keep having to remind myself that I NEED to write and develop back stories for every character that starts to become a recurring figure (NPC-wise... the players are on their own as far as back stories.)

    While I have one player who keeps me honest--such as reminding me how many years have passed between various events--I have screwed up a couple of times by confusing one character with another, or by forgetting a key event I mentioned in a character's background but never wrote down. It's easy to revise a novel or story before it's been published, but in the interactive environment of an RPG, the error is a little harder to recover from. (And then there's the time I messed up a character in a publication, because I didn't bother checking the back story that I myself had written. In my arrogance, I didn't check my own previous writings, and the editor trusted I knew what I was talking about.... Oooops.)

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  60. Very informative C post! The A-Z challenge is keeping me busy busy busy! :-)

    Penned Pebbles

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  61. Interesting post, Lee. When I first start writing a story, my characters may be as wooden as Pinocchio - but I don't write their character sketch, THEY do that as they become alive to me. They develop their own personalities, not a personality I've fore-ordained for them, and sometimes a backstory that I didn't know about until they told me. I love the way they can surprise me at times!
    http://paulamartinpotpourri.blogspot.com/

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  62. Hi Arlee!Great post! I am very passionate about my characters and sometimes wonder if they are controlling me or if I am controlling them. Very interesting!

    ~Melissa
    Reflections on Writing

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  63. Reading this reminded me of Pirandello's "Six Characters in Search of an Author" - the difference between the Characters, behaving authentically according to their natures, and the Actors, clumsily aping them from imperfect observations...

    Excellent post!

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  64. BOID ~
    I generally take each of my characters out for a night on the town. I mean, how can you say you REALLY know your characters until you've gotten loaded with them?

    (Plus, it's always a good excuse for going out on the town.)

    The plain truth of the matter is: Until you know what your characters would do or say while intoxicated, you do not really know your characters.

    It has always amazed me how few writers have grasped this simple but crucial concept.

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

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  65. Awesome - Glad I found you through a fellow blogger doing the A-Z Challenge. Hope I am not too late to sign up - I'll catch up tonight!

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  66. My people RARELY do what I think they're going to when I sit down to write. Rarely.

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  67. Thank you for stopping by Pawny's Pen!

    Your post is so true! I created a character prior to NaNoWriMo one year, and she was so incredibly boring that I killed her off in the first sentence. (On the plus side, that turned into the book I just published, because the mystery began with "why would anyone want to kill off someone who's that boring?")

    I look forward to reading the rest of your posts this month!

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  68. This is great! Thanks for the reminder to let my characters be themselves! That's when the magic happens.

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  69. Like the characters in my dreams! Always surprising me even though I think that I know them!
    Love Di ♥

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  70. learning to leave aspects of characters out of the story can be challenging, but knowing those details so very necessary! christy

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  71. Great point, Lee! Your characters have to be interesting...more interesting than real life, so they can capture the hearts of their audience. :)

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  72. Oh yes! Great advice. I'm off to look for the scissors.

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  73. Great post, I completely agree, Lee! Thanks for sharing.

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  74. Great post and yes I am enjoying the challenge :o) It's heaps better keeping the posts simple.

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  75. I had a manuscript where the antagonist was set. Then this not-before-seen character shows up out of the blow and convinces me to demote my at the time current antagonist to mere henchman. I never looked back. Letting characters flow like that can open up so many possibilities!

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  76. How true, because sometimes my characters (er, me when I threat them) get out of control!

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  77. Great point- thanks for pointing this out. I should start compiling your pointers for the day I decide to start writing!

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  78. Well said! When I'm creating characters, I write down the basics but eventually, they seem to have a mind of their own and I just go with it!

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  79. Hi Arlee, you left me a comment and said something that I am not quite sure what it meant so I wanted to ask because I think it would be so much easier than what I currently do.

    You said you're not subscribing and that I could email you back from the notification. I just wanted to sort of clarify what that meant.

    Does it mean that if I reply to the email I receive from your comment it goes directly to you?

    I so did not know that. If I am understanding that correctly, then that is very cool and I will be using that in the future.

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  80. Great post, Lee! You have to breathe life into characters. :)

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  81. I do thorough outlines of the characters I write, but do not use these parametres to imprison them. Few things are more fun in writing than having a character surprise its author by bursting out in a way that wasn't anticipated.

    It is this spontaneity that makes a character come to life...

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  82. Great blog topic, and I'm sure everyone has a different approach to developing characters. I have a general idea about a character and try to expand on that through their backstory. If they are a loner, I ask them why. If it is because they lost parents from a young age, I ask them what happened. etc. It works for me.
    Oh, and this is my first comment on your blog...:) I'll be back.

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  83. Too much backstory and I get bored and too little leaves me without much to write about. I've discovered that if I pick a way of viewing the world for each character they can then surprise me in a way that serves the story and fits into the overall themes of whatever I'm writing.

    For example in my current WIP, one character notices buildings and see people as constructions. Another sees people only in how they can help her get to her goals, so only sees the details she wants to.

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  84. Yes! This is hard for beginning writers because I think we tend to be imitative at first, as we practice and get our legs under us.

    I love when they live and breathe. I had one character in my last book that came out of nowhere. I liked him a lot. He was a joy to write.

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  85. whoa, I let these wonderful comments get away from me without acknowledging them. Thank you all! I have gotten so far behind, but I'm having delirious fun with A to Z and hope you are to.

    And Rosalind, when I reread this after it posted I too realized the same thing you pointed out but I wasn't about to rewrite it. Besides we don't know what happens after he becomes real!

    Lee

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Lee