Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Elusive Characters

The start of a new story is an exciting time. The plot is just unfolding, and new twists wait around every corner. Possibilities, still free from the confines of paper, abound. Exploration and discovery mark each task. And oh, perhaps best of all, I can stare out the window, daydreaming to my heart’s content, and claim, “I’m working.”

But the start of a new story can be equally frustrating—especially when the characters refuse to cooperate.

Some authors I know start with plot, but personally, I’m a character person. The plot must flow naturally from the people who are living it—from their personality, their decisions, their hopes and fears. So while I may initially start with an intriguing premise or a heart-pounding climax, I sooner or later—usually sooner—must discover the people behind the plot snippets. How did they end up here? What decisions drove them, and what motivated those decisions? How will they act or react to this or that circumstance?

But during the past few weeks, my characters have remained stubbornly silent. I’d catch fragments of their lives here and there, but nothing seemed connected or related.

It’s been especially hard as this is one of the few stories I’ve begun without any inkling of a climax. For in a climax, fears are faced, hopes lost, character tested, secrets unveiled. In that single scene, the essence of the story is captured: who a character was is juxtaposed against who she will become. But with no climax, the characters can hide, elusive and secretive.

That is difficult when I’m trying to capture the overall picture of the story, for I cannot be certain the picture I’m seeing is even the right one!

But at long last, there’s hope. The protagonists—all five of them (what am I going to do with five of them?!)—are talking, even if a bit reluctantly, and there is a ring of truth in their words at last. For so long my main protagonist just wanted to talk facts, but finally she’s opened her heart to me, her fears and dreams and struggles. And once she started talking so did the others, taking their cue from her.

And now I’m beginning to understand their reluctance. I may be in over my head too, and I’m only the scribe! It shall definitely be a journey of discovery and exploration and growth.

But then again, isn’t that half the fun of this stage?

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