And Then… My Character Slapped Me In The Face

Posted: July 19, 2013 in Twelve
Tags: , , ,

Have you ever had one of those moments where a character suddenly reveals something about themself that you were completely oblivious to?

(On a side note, did you know that spell check says “themself” is not a word?)

Back to the point: character secrets revealed. I’ve read articles and memoirs where authors discuss this strange phenomenon; I’ve just never had it happen to me. With a background in writing far more fanfiction than original fiction, I’ll admit the scales are tipped in the favor of characters having very few secrets hidden from me. When writing fanfiction you can make conjectures about their beliefs, fears, and favorite things but at least for me it was always educated guesses based on things I had already seen. There was no shock of surprise, there was analyzing.

Even though I’ve been working on my current project for about a year I’ve only experienced these “aha!” moments recently. (At least as far as I can recall.) Perhaps it’s a result of knowing my characters better. I’m more than halfway through a book. Once you’ve hit the halfway point you aren’t figuring out story or characters on the same level as you were in the beginning. In the beginning of a novel you’re setting the scene and getting a basic handle on everything. By the time you’re halfway through the story characters have started to take on a life of their own. Their decisions aren’t nearly so premeditated as they were in the beginning, they’re becoming organic and spontaneous and that’s when it hits you. BAM!

I experienced this moment yesterday afternoon while chugging along on my 3,000 words for the day. The scene in question was a little heated. The main character had asked for help from the one person who she trusts to give her answers: her mentor, your basic little old lady figure who has been around the block enough times to know what’s up with everything. Since the beginning the mentor has been rather coy with the information she’s given out and the advice she’s made. It’s never blatant and it’s always in that sneaky old lady way, like she knows more than she’s giving. Anyways, before the old woman can put in her two cents I’ve got a younger character start giving out a metric ton of ideas and advice, basically steam rolling her. As I’ve set the younger character up to be the expert on this particular topic it made sense to have him do what he does best and provide the information we need.

Only there was a problem. As the scene unfolded I realized the old mentor was quiet. Too quiet. Not like a “I as a character have nothing to say so I’ll wait in the background” kind of quiet. I’m talking about a pissed off kind of quiet. Like she’s just stewing in her own juices kind of quiet. And then she exploded. It turns out my expert isn’t the only expert, and the old mentor wasn’t at all happy with his methods because she knew all that stuff too, she just didn’t feel it was appropriate to share it all in one giant drop and she chastised him for it because he was “breaking the rules”. Apparently my main character isn’t the only character on the field she’s mentored, and I hadn’t the slightest idea until it hit like a ton of bricks.

Has anyone else experienced a charming moment like that? You’re writing your story, minding your own business and WHAM! a character reveals something you were oblivious to but in the end it seemed right?

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