20 January 2010

Applying Hot Iron: Recalcitrant Characters

So, those of you who follow me on twitter will know that for the last week or so, I've been working pretty hard on Sanctuary. I got nearly 5k yesterday, huzzah!! But really, I don't feel like this is a really major achievement, because it's been easy. The MC, Edge (real name Emma), is a chatterbox. She wants to stop and talk about everything, everyone. She's guaranteed to always have a comment or an aside, and her voice just flows, because she Doesn't. Stop. Talking.

This is a good thing. Really, it is. It's just frustrating that I won't have much writing time in the next week due to family weddings and a new job! :D But on the other hand, it gives me confidence that I can drop the story for a week and come back to it without missing a beat - Edge will still be there, ready to chatter away the instant I put fingers to keyboard.

In complete contrast, let me introduce you to Deviran. He's a co-MC of my Magic Eyes Universe books, the sensible and silent to Mercury's loud and silly. I adore Deviran. He's gorgeous, he's smart, he's sensible, dependable, reliable... And silent. Oh. So. Silent.

Okay, I can deal with having a character who's the strong silent type. I can deal with having a character who doesn't have much to say. I can...


See, what's really frustrating about Dev is that he's not only the silent type in-story, he's also silent out of story. Which makes it near impossible to find out anything about him. I love him, I adore him - but who the heck is he??

So. Today, let's look at some techniques you can use on recalcitrant characters - and if you have any others, leave them in the comments. Trust me, I need all the ammunition I can get.

1) Interviews. These work best for chatty characters, but a few well-leveraged questions can often open up the silent characters too. If you're really having trouble, consider asking a friend to play the role of interviewer while you respond in-character. That way, you won't be able to anticipate the answer because you won't know the question.

2) Role Playing. For your character, that is. Tear them out of their own story/universe, and make them uncomfortable. Throw them to the sharks, have them fight a tiger, expose them to any nasties your other worlds might be harbouring. Anything and everything - throw them at your character, and watch and see how they respond. Liana Brooks calls this one the Reaction Chamber.

3) Kill them. Again, and again, and again. As creatively and painfully as you can, on paper for the world - and your character - to see. Have a competition with a friend to see how many deaths it takes before the character is willing to crack and give you information.

4) Find the Detail. Often, there is one particular detail about a character that triggers off a whole ranges of questions and answers, like a chain reaction. It's just a matter of finding the right detail. Go through everything you know about your character, piece by piece, and threaten you character with either the destruction of this detail, or the reversal of it. Threaten to make the guy a girl, the mother a teen - or in my case, threaten to give the only guy in the entire Academy without a familiar a new one. o.O

5) Ask Someone Else. Like everything in life, it really is possible to get too close to the situation. Sometimes it's hard to see the character for the characteristics - or vice versa. Ask a friend (preferably a writer, or at least someone like an actor who is used to the business of characterisation) to read over what you've got written down with your character (including any or all of the above suggestions) and tell you what they think of your character. You might be surprised at how clear the character is to someone who isn't you.

With Deviran, 4 and 5 were most successful. I found out a whole bunch about his past and now all of a sudden who he is in the present makes sense.

Have you ever used any of these tactics with success? What other suggestions do you have for dealing with recalcitrant characters?


Merc said...

Nice list. ;)

I especially enjoy role playing (where killing people is often involved)--I dunno that I've tried the multiple death one yet... huh. I may have to try that. O:)

(Of course, it doesn't work when you have suicidal characters who would be HAPPY to get offed...)

The Detail is also an excellent idea, one I most certainly need to play with when I run into snags...

Much thanks for this, Inky One. :D

Snazel said...

Excellent list! :D I liked the "kill them" idea. Heh. Perhaps I should use that next!

Krispy said...

LOL. Love your list! I've definitely used the "reaction chamber" before and role-playing. The "kill them" tactic is a new one that I never considered. I don't know. A lot of my peeps don't seem to be all that threatened by death (also maybe because some of them ARE Death, hmm).

In a variation of the "reaction chamber," you could try sticking Quiet Character with one of your most friendly, most bubbly, most annoyingly cheerful and chatty type characters and see what happens. I mean, it's likely the Quiet one might just get overwhelmed, but it's also likely they'll crack. I have a character who is good for this, and I put anyone in a room with him and it's over. It's more effective than torture (some would say it IS torture). ;)

Inkblot said...

Merc - I'm shocked you haven't tried the multiple death tactic yet! Though, given your most recalcitrant characters are, after all, the ones that like death, perhaps you ought to threaten them with life, instead? How many ways can I keep you alive, my pretty, bwa ha...

The details is very useful though, yes :D

Snazzie - Let me know how it turns out!!

Krisple - Love the idea of inflicting torture on the characters via other characters! Will definitely have to try that one >:) Mwa ha ha!!!

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