Way back in November 2015 (yes, this post has been sitting in my drafts folder that long), I posted something in the NaNoWriMo forums about how you can get so close to your characters that it’s almost like having fictional friends.
I know it sounds lame/nerdy/dorky or whatever, but my characters are my friends. Not in the sense that you can talk to them and they talk back, but in the sense that they are parts of you and can help you see different aspects of yourself. Real flesh-and-blood friends help you do this, too, and hopefully the relationship is mutualistic enough that you do this for each other.
Friendship is also about comfort and being able to be your true self around others. You can be yourself around your characters, and you feel comfortable enough hanging out with them even when they sometimes don’t want to go along with your nefarious fictional plots.
Do you see your characters as friends?
The “helicopter parenting” phenomenon exists because some parents refuse to let their child fail or make mistakes, and with those good intentions, they pilot their child’s entire life. All that hovering can make a child stressed and miserable because she is forced to listen to distracting white noise that makes it difficult for her to figure out her own path, let alone move forward on that path.
A lot of the time, writers compare their novels or their characters to children. After all, the writer “begets” the novel and creates and raises the characters. You’d think that make-believe characters that came out of your own imagination would be far, far easier to control than a living, breathing child, and you’d be right.
However, when you do try to control the fictional people in your head, it somehow still doesn’t always work out, even though it seems like it should. I’m not exactly sure why total control of characters never works out, but it is a good thing because if you control your characters too much, they all end up as carbon copies of the author, speaking and acting and reacting exactly as the author would do. Perhaps the urge to hover too closely over our characters and control their every move comes from writing lazily, without truly thinking about where the story is going. When writing just for the sake of getting the words down, writers tend to default to whatever comes easiest, which tends to be ignoring our characters’ individual personalities and choosing their actions from our own perspective.
Then when looking back on the story during revision or editing, we see that our lazy writing has resulted in characters who are not true to themselves. At some point, we were essentially writing on autopilot, helicoptering over our characters and not giving them the freedom to develop as they should. The helicopter parenting phenomenon doesn’t work in exactly the same way because I imagine it would require a great deal of effort on the part of the parent to give his or her life up to control that of his or her child—it wouldn’t be laziness at all. But how much more effort and strength would it take to let go of those controls and let the child pilot his own life?
And that’s why she acts the way she does. She is a separate entity from me, and sometimes she does things I would never do in a million years.
That is the dilemma that Morgan Ranes wrote about so eloquently on her blog: characters behaving independently of their authors, yet readers misconstruing their actions as something the author herself would do.
I seem to encounter this problem most often when someone I know in real life reads my writing. They seem to believe that all of my characters are, to some extent, me, and that I am my characters. But the reality of writing is that you breathe a little bit of life into a character, and she grows and does her own thing from there. Much of the time, the author has very little to do with it. We just plot out the story, give the characters some guidance, and step back and see how it all plays out.
In short: It’s a writer thing. You wouldn’t understand! 🙂