Characters are unfortunately an essential part of writing a novel. I say unfortunately, because they’re the most troublesome creatures alive. Did I say alive? Well, that’s the main issue right here. It would be much easier if they stayed flat on the page, but do they? No. No sooner have I started writing them than they leap onto their own two feet and start running. Which leads to all kinds of unexpected consequences. If only for self-protection, I’ve discovered five essential rules that I have to follow if I’m ever going to get my writing done.
1. The people that populate your novel know a lot more about themselves than you do. So give them the chance to reveal themselves, and you might get a few surprises. You’re right in the middle of the novel when a sudden bit of information about them comes up, something you didn’t know until they revealed it. Take Mr Darcy, for example. We know how he behaves with Elizabeth, we know how he is from a romantic perspective. But take him out of the context of Pride and Prejudice and put him with his cousin, or see him interacting with Caroline Bingley in private, or put him in charge of Georgiana in a rebellious moment, and you’ll suddenly discover aspects of him you didn’t know. I certainly did.
2. You need to give your people free rein to react to what you throw at them. Even if you’re the type of author who plots ahead of time (I tend to do that), you’ll be surprised at the spanners the people of your novel will throw in the works if you try to lead them in certain direction. You can follow the plot, but you have to let the people in your novel give it the unexpected twists and turns that makes it interesting. In the Darcy Cousins, for example, Georgiana looks up to her cousin Clarissa and relies on her for guidance in the art of wooing a gentleman. But then Clarissa rejects that role, and decides to do her best to woo the same gentleman! It wasn’t what I planned, but Clarissa gave me no choice.
3. You can still play god, if you must, because you can be the hand of fate, but you’ll quickly discover that trying to be an authoritarian god doesn’t work. The characters will have their own opinions, whether you like it or not, and may well have opinions you don’t agree with at all. The people you created (ungrateful creatures) exercise their free will and even do the things you expressly forbade them from doing. In The Other Mr Darcy, Caroline Bingley insists on drinking several rounds of cherry, despite the fact that it’s a terrible idea. Can you imagine Caroline Bingley drunk? But despite trying to cut out that part, Caroline insisted on having it included. Well, what could I do? I’m only the author.
4. There’s no point in arm-wrestling your people to prove who’s the stronger. In fact, don’t even try. They’ll win in seconds. I made the mistake of thinking that I could shape Robert Darcy the way I wanted. After all, it’s my book, isn’t it? Well, theoretically, it works, if you want to produce cardboard figures. But after I finished the novel, I had to go back and rewrite him completely. I had to grovel and ask him what he wanted to be like. My, did he have a lot more to say than I expected! He was a darker, more complex person than I imagined. The same was true in The Darcy Cousins. I thought Georgiana was a very sweet tempered person, and that’s how I wanted her to be. But she refused to fit into my preconceived notions. I struggled and struggled, and finally had to give up and rewrite the whole first part of the novel.
5. Above all, if you want them to have a life, for heaven’s sake, don’t think of them as characters. They’re people, and now that you’ve created them, they’ll go their own way, and you can’t do a thing to stop them. You might as well love them for who they are.
Thank you Fresh Fiction for allowing me this opportunity to vent about my characters (ahem, people). Do other writers have similar experiences, I wonder?
A young lady in disgrace should at least strive to behave with decorum…
Dispatched from America to England under a cloud of scandal, Mr. Darcy’s incorrigible American cousin, Clarissa Darcy, manages to provoke Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mr. Collins, and the parishioners of Hunsford all in one morning!
And there are more surprises in store for that bastion of tradition, Rosings Park, when the family gathers for their annual Easter visit. Georgiana Darcy, generally a shy model of propriety, decides to take a few lessons from her unconventional cousin, to the delight of a neighboring gentleman. Anne de Bourgh, encouraged to escape her “keeper”Mrs. Jenkinson, simply…vanishes. But the trouble really starts when Clarissa and Georgiana both set out to win the heart of the same young man…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Literature professor Monica Fairview loves teaching students the joys of reading. But after years of postponing the urge, she finally realized that what she really wanted to do was write. The author of THE OTHER MR. DARCY and AN IMPROPER SUITOR, the American-born Ms. Fairviewcurrently resides in London. For more information, please visit her website.