I've got a question for other authors here: do you consider your characters to be alive?
The reason I ask is because of Patricia Cornwell. This past Thursday, I attended the first Cornwell event in Houston, Texas, since 1991! It was a well-attended gathering at a hotel ballroom hosted by Houston's own mystery store, Murder by the Book. Ms. Cornwell said a few words and then opened up a Q&A session. Most of the questions revolved around her main characters--Kay Scarpetta, Pete Marino, Benton Wesley, and Lucy Farinelli--and what they thought or did in certain situations. Now, I'll admit that I've not read any of Cornwell's books (my wife has read all of them, including the Jack the Ripper non-fiction one) and found all the information informative.
What fascinated me is how Cornwell, herself, and the audience members basically spoke about Scarpetta et. al. as if they were real people. I know how characters in long-running book and TV series can get themselves ingrained in our consciousness, becoming like friends. It's just that I hadn't experienced that with fiction. Cornwell, when describing her writing style, mentioned that she had a relationship with her characters, one of the main reasons why she "talks" with Kay, Pete, and the others.
My view is different. Well, it's different at this young stage of my career. Talk to me in twenty years and I might have a different opinion. For now, however, my characters do what they are told. I have plans for them, stories to tell.
As authors, do you consider your characters to be real?
I'd suggest that no one wants to read about characters, Scott. They want to hear other people's stories.
I'm with you. I am also at a young point in my writing career and readers who think characters are real kinda creep me out.
I honestly assume that authors are playing along with readers when they say things like: "I was going to write a book about this one couple but then this other guy showed up and wanted to be in a different story." I assume that means "the story I was irking on didn't come together but then I got this other idea."
Part of writing- for me at least- is creating characters with voices, beliefs and ideas that are distinct from mine. I lay out the plot and the challenges, then set up people who will each have their own individual reactions to them. I also use writing to get into political and social debates with myself, so i rarely hold the same world views as all of my characters.
I sit down with the aim of moving a story in a particular direction, but then along the way I have to listen out for moments when the characters want to go a different way, or when their reaction to an event doesn't match the one o've written for them, because that's where the emotional honesty of the story comes from. I let 'em loose.
ey have to be presented as real, so the audience can perceive them as such if they choose. The reader/viewer must be allowed to slip into that vivid fictional dream where disbelief is suspended. The best I've seen at this was THE WIRE. When it ended, both The Beloved Spouse and I remarked we were left with the feeling these people's lives continued; we just weren't going to be allowed to watch anymore.
That being said, we dress them up as well we can, but they're still fictional creations, products of the writer's imagination. If I'm ever sitting near to someone who says his characters speak to him and he takes his stories where the characters tell him, I shift away as surreptitiously as I can. Yes, characters "speak" to writers, but not literally.
While writing a story my characters HAVE to be people. When I have them doing something that action has to be believable. I often come to a place where I say to my self, "He (she) wouldn't/will do that" and either continue with the action or change my plan. This makes for a believable story since it is people, live characters doing the action.
With out real people,none of that would work.
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