30 November 2009

A Mind of Their Own

Hey, Friends! How was your Thanksgiving? I hope it was great! Mine definitely was. Now I need a break from the break! Isn't that always how it goes?

This week we're going to talk about characters, but with a twist. You see, the week before Thanksgiving I puppysat for some friends. I love their sweet little boy. He looks a lot like the ottoman on Beauty and the Beast, with a swirl of long black and white fur and thick, snowy paws. His tail curls over his backside like a DQ ice cream cone, his eyes are slightly unfocused in that sweet "puppy" look, and his precious underbite is more adorable than pirahna-like. At five months old, his puppy belly still jiggles, he still goes limp when tired, and the puppy breath is beginning to fade. He's also highly active, doesn't need as much sleep, and tries to chew/bite everything. With a particular penchant for leaves, going outside is less to do business than it is to play, something that drove me crazy because I couldn't get anything done.

Sometime in all the running about, declaring things like: "Good boys don't bite" and trying to coax him into cuddling (he seems to think that my favorite activity in the world is playing--same as my poodle--which, for the record is just not so), I realized that he was teaching me a lot about characters, even though he just thought he was making me crazy.

The first thing he taught me was that he had a mind of his own. You see, I had a grand plan for the week I stayed at my friends' house. I planned to edit to my heart's content, work on my other projects, and even start writing my WIP again. I mean, I had a week of nothing to do but write. Paradise, right?

Well, the first four days went by with no writing. Why? Because Roi (pronounced like "Roy") had his own plans for the day involving his girlfriend (a stuffed dog), tennis balls, his squeaky monkey, chewing the furniture, hiding under the furniture, and of course, the aforementioned leaves outside. None of those plans included a nap, my favorite activity of the day. Roi wouldn't let me work. He wanted to play and even when he didn't want to play, he wanted to wreak havoc. He had to be with me everywhere I went--and I mean everywhere--and didn't want me on the computer at all.

At first, I was really frustrated. But you know what? He was letting me into his life, into his own world--a world full of adventure, fierce conflict (or you'd think it by his growls), and simple pleasures--like froclicking in the leaves outside. He had his own ideas, his own instincts, and separate desires. He wasn't like any other dog I've ever known. He was his own "person".

The same is true with our characters. Sometimes it's hard to remember that they are their own people with completely separate desires, ideas, needs, and personalities. Often I forget, and it's only after being stuck in a scene with no idea what's going to happen--and being bored myself-- that I realize the character might have something important--and entirely different-- to say. It's when we reliquish control of the reins, given them their "head", and allow them to freedom to move, to breathe, to speak that their stories come to life. After all, we aren't telling our stories. We're telling theirs'. And while our stories might be bound up with theirs', it's not our turn to speak. Our turn will come. But when it's their time, we need to be willing to completely enter their world--and see where this completely different person will take us.

It wasn't fair for me to expect Roi to be like me, my poodle, or anyone else (dog or person) I've ever known. I had to let him be who he is--a precious, very energetic shih tzu.

What about you? Do you need to let your characters loose?


  1. I do, actually, have a character I need to let loose. Thanks for the reminder, Kristen! I've gotten a couple of comments from readers that they want more from one particular minor character. I think I'll brainstorm and see what happens. :)

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  2. Great post! I've been really stuck and I think it's because I've kept my heroine on a leash. I guess it's time to let go.... LOL

    Glad you had a good time with that wild dog. LOL

  3. Awwwwwww, he's soooo cute!!!! Great post, Kristen :) Glad you had a great Thanksgiving, I did too, but I ate too much...isn't that always the case? LOL.

  4. Yes my heroine needs a bit more free reign. :) Love that pic btw.

  5. What a precious puppy! My daughter would give everything to have I'm sure.

    There are a few strings that need to be cut from my main character- interesting to see where that leads.

    Thanks Kristen!

  6. Aww, he's adorable! Sounds like your weekend was just like having kids--distractions and interruptions to the best laid plans! But also those heart-warming moments you treasure!

  7. It's such a process for me to get to know my characters. Usually, about halfway through writing my rough draft, I finally get a handle on them, and the words flow much easier. I finally "let them loose" as you say.

    Happy Monday!

  8. Okay, thats' a bundle of adorable. Must resist . . . impulse . . . to . . . run to . . . pet shop.

    I have one character that I'm struggling with. *sigh* She'll break free soon . . . I hope.

  9. I'm a little like Katie. Its usually half way through the story I finally get to know them a little better and realize who I love already and who needs to be more developed.

    Sounds like you had a busy weekend! It's definitely that time of year.

  10. Kristen....this is excellent. thank you thank you thank you thank you for this. I'm running with all these suggestions. You've given me the omph I needed to move with my one story. I was using me instead of listening to her voice. Have an awesome week....and I love your stuff and Roi sounds pretty cute. Sarah

  11. I love that you described him like the ottoman from B& the B. We just went to Disney, so my picture was strong. Trouble with me is that new characters always want in. I need to edit my current one and characters from #4 keep coming alive and at me. Oi. Or Roi. :)
    ~ Wendy

  12. I've definitely let my characters loose, and it turned my whole story around. But, now, I'm having to clean up some of the messes they left in their wake. :)

  13. Awww, how precious!!! I give my characters a little wiggle room, but not too much because they then they tend to do things "out of character". :)

  14. Oh my gosh, he's sweet! So cute. He's the second such puppy online today, too. :) It's puppy heaven!

    This is such a good analogy. Thanks for sharing your inspired thoughts, Kristen!

  15. What a cute puppy!

    I think my challenge is when my characters start to let loose. I usually know them pretty well in the beginning. It's when they start to grown and change that I have to step back and figure out how to write them accordingly.

  16. Who knew this cute little guy would provide so much character inspiration! I sometimes know exactly what a character will do, other times not so much. But the journey is always interesting:)

  17. Roi is so adorable!!!!! No wonder you didn't get the writing done that you expected.

    You're right though, if we try to mold our characters they stall the journey. Amazing how that works.

  18. You're welcome, Elizabeth! And what a compliment when your readers are asking for more of certain characters! Good for you!

    Jessica, Tamika, and Tabitha, I'm definitely learning this myself. I have a tendency to create characters I automatically understand, which means they are a lot alike (and a lot like me in certain ways).

    Definitely, Roxy, but that's what Thanksgiving is for in my opinion. And Christmas. All calories between Halloween and my birthday (in January) are free!

    Exactly, Jody! It's fun to take care of someone else (even if it is a dog). I love that puppy too.

    It takes me a while too, Katie and Heather. Part of that is being a panster, I think. Half the time I don't know what's happening until I'm halfway through.

    Stay strong, Rebecca! Just envision all the messes and the lack of sleep. And the kisses and the cuddling and the smiles... Dogs are always worth it.

    Thank you, Sarah, and you're welcome! I'm so glad this encouraged you!

    Ha, Wendy! Whenever Roi runs at me, I just hear "ottoman, ottoman" in my head. Sounds like you have no limit to ideas--I definitely envy that!

  19. Susan, ah, the messes. Such an important point--thanks for bringing it up! Characters can wreak havoc and mess everything up, but there's usually a way to clean it up. We just have to look out for them. I didn't last week and definitely stepped in the wrong spot outside...

    Jennifer--that's a great point too. It all comes down to knowing your characters, I guess. Do you do writing prompts? I really don't... the best way I know to get to know them is to write their stories. Sometimes I have to go back in and put the "characteristics" in.

    I know, Janna! I think Jill and I were on a special wavelength over the break. Her post is great and I love puppies! You're welcome, Janna! And thank you!

    Growth definitely makes for interesting twists, Cindy. I completely agree. It's hard to marry the new changes in the character and keep it authentic. If we do it well, though, we'll have a complete, fully rounded character.

    I know! Actually, while I puppysat I was thinking, "I'm going to use this for a blog so that I won't go crazy". It was my trick not to lose my mind sometimes. You're so right, Karen--the journey is always interesting!

    It definitely is, Eileen! I'm learning that these people in my head are even more real that I think they are!

  20. Fabulous post. Unfortunately my characters, being the edgy people they are, usually jerk away and sprint off, their leashes dangling.
    Still...info to file away.

    Thanks for a great blog.

  21. I have to say your story is the reason I don't have pets, sometimes they're more work than kids.

    Sometimes you have to let your character try and different path even if it doesn't work.

  22. So adorable! He has that impish look in his eye I can tell. :O)

    Hope to see you over at my new blog home www.dianeestrella.com

  23. Haha, Patti! Pets are a lot like kids--although I'm a lot better with pets.

    Thanks for letting me know, Diane! I'll definitely head over there.

    Thanks, Patti Lacy!

  24. Oh friend! What great insight! I love following your blog - although I never comment. Thank you for sharing...and taking care of Roi.

  25. Cute puppy!

    One of my characters recently showed a side of himself I found annoying. Where did the strong, kind man go? Then, I realized he was facing a major shift in his life and needed time to adjust. Once I figured that out, I was able to guide him through the changing seasons of his life.

    Susan :)

  26. Love that picture! I'd love to find him in my stocking =) My characters? They SO rule the roost. I'd like to think I was in control but truthfully? I just take dictation ;)

  27. Yes...I sure do! Right now I'm stuck in my novel. What a great reminder to listen to my characters and let them take the lead. Great post, Kristen! God bless.

  28. Setting characters loose as we speak. :) BTW... your pup is adorable!

  29. Thanks, anonymous friend! I love you mucho!

    I love that Susan--sometimes we just need to help them transition. So true!

    Haha, T.Anne! I love that your characters are so real to you! That's awesome!

    Thanks, Gwen! And you're welcome!

    Haha--he definitely is, Ellie!

  30. He is a cutie! I love how you tell us a story and then bring it around to our writing problems. And yes, I have characters that I've had to let them go their own way as they didn't leave me alone!

  31. Guess who lost 2 baby teeth and hit 7lbs today! That's right - Ottoman! At this moment...he is "chewing" on a plate, occasionally barking at it. Ugh.

  32. Great analogy! Characters really do develop a mind of their own, don't they?

  33. Thanks, Terri! I'm glad my little analogies work!

    Oh, Ottoman. Behave, little furry man-boy. Sorry, Friend. This stage shall pass in... what did we read? A month?

    Thanks, Lisa and Laura! They definitely do!

  34. Wonderful analogy!! Kids teach us the darndest things, don't they!