View Full Version : Characters don't take over stories!

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December 16th, 2001, 12:45 AM
Do you agree with that statement?
Yes? No? And Why?

December 16th, 2001, 06:06 AM
I think this is one of those things that writers will never agree on.

I use to think that characters took over the story, that the story would write itself. Iíd heard so many people use those phrases. Over the years many things have changed my mind. Now, I have to say that I am the one that creates the story and I am the one that writes it. This works for me and my method of writing. I need a great deal of structure, you canít have that if you donít know where you are going. Others may not need that same structure when they write.

So I suppose that it depends on each writerís method and what works for them. For some, yes the characters do take over the story. For me though, the characters do not.

December 16th, 2001, 06:55 AM
It's hard to say unless you define what you mean by "taking over." Personally, I can't see how LOTR could have gotten off the ground without Gollum, though it could have succeeded without others such as Elrond and Thorin.

December 17th, 2001, 01:31 AM
"Taking over" for the guy who wrote this statement, means leading the story to a dead-end.

But, personaly, I find that characters and story are so closely conected that you actually can't have a story with out the characters "taking over" (with the possitive sense).

December 17th, 2001, 07:12 AM
I think that this "argument" may all be somantics. This is a little long, so please forgive. The characters ARE the story, as seen in the following ways:
1) The story is often written through the POV of one or more characters. We are told the story through them; see events through their eyes and hear their thoughts. In this way, the characters take over the story because without them, there would be no story! The focus is on their POV, thoughts, opinions, feelings and reactions to the events which transpire.
2) The story is defined by how the characters REACT to events. Nothing happens unless the characters DO something. It is their actions and reactions which comprise the meat of a story.
3) Even when the POV of the writing is from an "omniscient" but objective observer, the story still revolves around what the characters DO. Endless pages of background, history, exposition and the like, do not a story make. Those elements exist to give structure and detail to the worlds through which the characters move.
4) A good writer will be sensitive to the truth of each character in his/her story. Even if he/she has planned a certain event to happen in the story, with pre-ordained results, the writer must examine how each character will REACT to the event. Their choices, their actions, will determine the outcome of the event. What they DO will affect the outcome of the story. At times, I have found in my own writing, that plans I have laid are altered by the truth of a character. Basically stated, after establishing a character firmly I introduced that character into a situation in which he would have reacted quite differently than I had intended. I could have written in the original action, gone against what I had established as the characters personality, and gone on at length to create an excuse for why he reacted uncharacteristically in this situation. Instead, I allowed his true actions to play through the event, which only added greater tension to the scene and ended up being a much stronger choice. Was I right in letting the character "dictate" the story? Yes and no. I am the writer and I ultimately choose how events will unfold and be told. A good writer can justify almost anything. On the other hand, well-wrought characters begin to take on a life all their own. Just as an actor creates a character on stage who is different from themself, the writer creates characters in his/her imagination which are more than just puppets, but who have voices. Listen to those voices and the story will have verisimilitude. Force your preconcieved notions onto characters and events which are jarring and inconsistent with character, simply to fulfill a plot point, and you risk losing your readers. Readers will say to themselves, "But, character X wouldn't do that!" Stay true to the characters you create, plan well, and write the story you intend...but allow the characters the freedom to inspire you as well. Our imaginations will surprise and delight.

December 17th, 2001, 08:02 AM
I could not have said it better myself, Matt!

December 18th, 2001, 03:12 AM
You definitely could have said it shorter, Bardos! I've read doctoral dissertations shorter than some of my posts!

December 18th, 2001, 11:58 AM
One of the fasinating aspects of writing fiction for me is that ability for characters to come "alive". Sometimes it's quite disconcerting. But they are _real_.

A critic I like said that writers have the same moral responsibilities towards characters they create as towards any human being. I found this statement quite disturbing, and very interesting. I'm writing one novel where my character is dead and where all sorts of sadistic things happen to him, he is in despair etc. To him, I am God. What then do my actions make me? Not a very nice God, that's for sure...