Hole 5: Let Your Characters Rebel
Staging the Rebellion
Many years ago, when I was working on, Nissa's Place, the sequel to my first published novel The Year of the Sawdust Man, my mother asked me how the writing was going and I replied, "Well, it's bizarre, no one is doing what I expect them to do and I don't know what's going to happen next." She paused for a moment, then asked, "How can that happen if you're creating the characters? Can't you just tell them what to do?"
I sure could, but that would be far less interesting to me and to the readers who will eventually pick up the book once it's published. If we authors try to control our characters, we become a literary puppeter, so I'm suggesting we cut the strings and allow our characters to become "A real boy!"
We can't breathe true life into our characters, but we can create characters that are life-like. I'll never forget the reader who told me, "I was afraid to put the book down because I thought the characters would so something while I was away." This remark revealed how real the charactrers felt to her as she read.
In order to create the sense of realism that tells readers the characters have a life of their own, you have to allow those characters to rebel against your own conception of them. How can this happen if you're the one creativing them? It's all psychology, my dear Watson, psychology.
Knowing How Your Mind Works
Letting Your Characters Surprise You
To do this well, it helps to steep yourself in character development before you start writing. Study human psychology--in books, people watching, personal interactions, films, books. Make people your homework. Notice clothing, gestures, dialogue, and all the other little things that show us who a person is and how they interact with others. Let all this material seep into your subconscious.
I also do a lot of character exercises--what restaurant would a character choose? What would s/he order? How does she eat? What does he drink? Any food s/he would pick off his/her plate?
It can also be helpful to make a take a mental walk through the character's world. A trip through the house to hear the sounds, listen to the family go about their day, walk through the neighborhood, visit the school, go to a friends house. I realize all of these things will rise out of what you know and think, but when you can take these walks without thinking about what you're creating, the better you become at randomly generating details and building character profiles you can draw on as your write.