Tuesday, July 13, 2010

What Would You Do?

I believe there’s a news program that asks, “What would you do?” They’d set up a situation and ask you to say or think what you would do in that situation.

That’s what we ask ourselves when we write. We put our protagonist in a “situation” or we cause something to happen to her or him, then we ask ourselves, what would we do, then we have our character do that. And, voila, the plot moves forward.

So now I’m asking you, Does it? Does the plot move forward?

You trap your protagonist in a cave with no obvious way out, then you ask, OK, how would I get out? How would I react in this situation? Or you have your protagonist find out she has cancer or diabetes and you then think, how would I react?

How you would react is not integral to your story. What matters is how that character would react. How that person would react and what that person would do. If your characters are just mini-yous, then they are not real people. Sure, they’re gonna have bits of you in them (you are their creator), but they are not you.

Stop and think of all the different possibilities. Your character has just been given really bad medical news. What will she do?
Go to bed and cry for two days.
Run to the gym and exercise herself into exhaustion.
Call friends and tell each of them.
Hide the prognosis and tell no one.
Tell only one trusted friend.
Get on the Internet and begin researching.
Stop on the way home to have her will changed.
Sit by the lake and try to soak in the beauty of the water and ducks.
Sell her house and begin a quest to do the things on her bucket list.
Call her siblings and tell them the prognosis so they can get tested.
Throw out her brown suit and pumps and head to the nightclub for some fun.
Make appointments with specialists and begin treatment.
In any situation there are a myriad of possibilities. Don’t just go with the first one that comes to mind – the one you would do. Your protagonist has to be real to you or she won’t be real to the reader. So ask her or let her tell you.

Have you written a character that didn’t do what you would have done? Were you surprised? Did you learn something by listening to him or her?

30 comments:

  1. I haven't consciously tried it, but my characters almost never behave the way I would or the way I would want them to. But I guess that is what makes the whole writing process so interesting.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think the fun of writing is to let your protagonist do the things you wouldn't do, what you couldn't do or didn't dare to do ... escape from reality >:)

    Cold As Heaven

    ReplyDelete
  3. It is fun. I like having a character do something and I think to myself, wow, I hadn't thought of that.

    ReplyDelete
  4. It's all a surprise to me. I'm not expecting anything that my characters do...

    ReplyDelete
  5. I just noticed you tweeted yesterdays post. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I do like to consider the possibilities, and will sometimes have my character react, or do something I would like to do, but might not have the nerve to!

    ReplyDelete
  7. I'm with Cold as Heaven on this one. I like the characters (in some instances anyway) to act/do differently than I would. While I do like to consider how *I* would deal with certain situations that character always differs in how best to handle things. Their life circumstances are also almost always so different from mine that the choices are inherently different.

    I make my characters live and, in return, I get to live through them sometimes. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  8. I was writing the 2nd book and had my character second-guess herself about walking into a high-class establishment wearing, let's just say, sad, wrinkled, faded clothes. She walked away, but the scene wasn't working. Eventually I figured out it was because my character WOULDN'T walk away. Her sense of curiousity would overrule her sense of fashion. I'm not certain whether that's what I would have done or not...

    Gayle Carline, author of FREEZER BURN.

    ReplyDelete
  9. You're welcome, Liza. If I were "with it" enough, I'd open Twitter every morning before I started visiting blogs. Alas, I am not that organized.

    Kimberly, I like the idea of living through our characters.

    Gayle, I love that example!

    ReplyDelete
  10. I'm inching my way towards beginning this process of allowing the character to emerge. This is very helpful. Thanks.
    Karen

    ReplyDelete
  11. If my characters only did what I would do, they'd be pretty darned boring.
    ~jon

    ReplyDelete
  12. My characters are much braver than I am. They're constantly doing things I would worry about and fret about for ages before chickening out :)

    ReplyDelete
  13. I really like your idea of making a list of all of the options. Then you can think about your character more clearly and the option she chooses will actually further the characterisation. Great!

    ReplyDelete
  14. My main character is very cocky and defiant, so his reactions are way different than mine.

    ReplyDelete
  15. It's a good thing I don't write myself in as a character. Like some of you said, that character would be pretty boring and more of a listener than a talker.

    ReplyDelete
  16. My characters always seem to act in ways that surprise me. I don’t think any of them have the same reactions to situations that I would and for me that’s part of the joy of writing.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Isn't this interesting? Most of us seem to write characters who are quite different from us.

    ReplyDelete
  18. My first characters were more like me, but it quickly expanded into ones who were very different!

    ReplyDelete
  19. I have struggled against myself in writing many times. It's hard to let yourself go! But when I just let my characters take over...Yes, they can be surprising--which is eye-opening for me.

    Michele
    SouthernCityMysteries

    ReplyDelete
  20. Characters aren't happy when they're stuffed into role they don't want. If you try to force them to do something against their character, it'll show. You, the writer, created these people. Listen to them.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Helen, there's no way my characters do what I'd do. I'm a terrified & shy wimp! You're right, we should list several options, and go with the best one for our character.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Julie, perhaps we should start a wimp club.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I think allowing your characters to do the unexpected can only improve the work--it may also allow the writer to grow individually as well.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I think that the *choices* we have as writers (how characters will react, what direction the plot will go in) is almost overwhelming...but it's fun. :)

    ReplyDelete
  25. What an important reminder, Helen. Early on my characters seemed too much like me, but I learned to let them be their own persons with practice. Jenny in One Small Victory is one character who really isn't me. I don't think I would have the courage to do what she did by working as a confidential informant and facing down a major drug dealer.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Brilliant post and this is fantastic method for character development. My protagonists are always like me though..it's much easier. Which is slightly strange though, because all of them are psychotic. :(

    ReplyDelete
  27. Brilliant post and this is fantastic method for character development. My protagonists are always like me though..it's much easier. Which is slightly strange though, because all of them are psychotic. :(

    ReplyDelete
  28. I will definitely search the internet but I think I will cry too.

    Steamy Darcy

    ReplyDelete
  29. Maryann, what fun was that! Getting to live and do things through your character. (And also difficult to write.)

    Culture Served Raw - very funny!

    ReplyDelete
  30. Excellent post. I do love wondering what I would do in various situations. It is almost like playing what if, which is my favourite game. The really interesting thing is that it may seem like there is only one or two options but then when you think about it and get really specific, there are almost limitless options in every situation and finding the right one for your character can sometimes take a bit of time and consideration.
    Thanks for sharing this.

    ReplyDelete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...