Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Character Problem

I've been experiencing a kind of paralysis with my WiP. One-third of the way in at 33,500 words, and with a fair idea of some of the scenes up ahead and a good plan for the ending, I should be churning out 1000 words a day with no trouble at all. But I have found myself to be somewhat stuck.

I had a bit of a re-read and realised I'd committed POV slippage in one chapter. I have three main characters and, for the first draft, they are getting a chapter each in turn. Two are girls and one is a boy. The slippage was in a chapter that should have been from the boy's POV, and somewhere in the middle I began writing in one of the girls' POVs without realising what I was doing.

This began to worry me. I thought maybe the whole thing was complete crap (you know how easy it is to slip into that mindset, right?). So I set up a spreadsheet and did a full re-read of what I'd written so far, and a scene-by-scene analysis of POV and tension levels.

Actually, it's not complete crap. It is a first draft with all the holes and saggy bits you'd expect, but it also has some great ideas and some really good writing. It's not boring, either: there's one chapter which has low tension throughout, so that will need addressing, but I know what to do to make it better. And the pacing is already quite good in the other chapters.

However, I did find another POV slippage, again in a chapter that should have been from the boy's POV, this time into the other girl's POV. This began to worry me. I started thinking about my boy character. Why couldn't I get him to stay in his POV? He is the third of the three characters to arrive 'on stage' - did I not know him well enough? I did some freewriting about him, which was helpful, and a character questionnaire, which was also helpful. But I was still struggling to write from his POV.

I began to feel as if I didn't like him. Really, really didn't like him. Which was daft. He's not a bad lad, although he can be annoying: he's stubborn, wary, fidgets, and tells lies. A slippery customer, so perhaps it's not surprising he slipped out of his own POV chapters. But he's also caring, kind to humans and animals, and he's had a really shit deal from life in the last few years. So why would I not like him? Just because he kept pushing me out of his POV?

Eventually I realised that this is a form of writer madness. My boy was created by my own imagination. He is entirely mine to do with as I please. I can write him out of the book, kill him off as horribly as I like, torture, maim and mutilate him if I want to. Or I can cherish him, surprise him with treats, make his wishes come true. But most of all, I can make him damn well behave and stay in his own damn POV!


Helen said...

Hello. I liked your bit about him being a slippery character and that's why he slipped out of his POV. Made me laugh.

The writer madness i can identify with. I can do what I like with my characters, it's up to me. But at the moment I feel they're a bit blah. Maybe I should look at doing freewriting and a character questionnaire.

Carol said...

Not being a writerly person I have no words of wisdom (Ha, actually I never have any words of wisdom about anything!) but I'm sure you will get there with your character. It's a first can be changed so don't get too hung up about it!

C x

Debs said...

Good for you for taking charge and making him do what you want.

That said, I know what you mean, my characters do tend to tell me what they want and go off in all sorts of directions I hadn't been planning to go on.

Queenie said...

Hello, Helen! Glad I made you laugh. I recommend freewriting, and Nicola's character questionnaire - I find it more useful than the kind which asks for your character's star sign and inside leg measurement.

Carol, I think you've picked up a lot from hanging out with us writer types, because your last sentence is spot on.

Debs, I know, mine do too, but we must discipline them!!!

SpiralSkies said...

Oddly enough, I sort of like it when the characters think they know better than we do - it gives them an extra dimension that makes them seem more real?

Am a massive freewriting fan and even read my character's horoscopes if I'm desperate!

Talli Roland said...

Way to make your characters behave! Go Queenie!

I usually add in a lot more bits to the character as I go through the second draft.

PS - Love your song on my blog post yesterday!

Lane said...

I'm glad you've put him back in his place. Honestly, give these characters an inch and they'll take a mile. Or even a POV:-)

Bluestocking Mum said...

Hi Queenie

Ha! If only it were that easy in real life. I have a 17 year old - I'd re-write him and his attitude completely!

And I SO know what you mean about writer madness.

warm wishes

Queenie said...

SpiralSkies, I never thought of reading my characters' horoscopes - genius!

Talli, I bet I'll do that too (and thank you)

Lane, I know, they proper get above themselves, don't they?

BM, wouldn't it be great if we could rewrite real life sometimes?

HelenMHunt said...

Now you've nailed what you're not happy with you'll sort it easily.

Pat said...

'He is entirely mine to do with as I please. I can write him out of the book, kill him off as horribly as I like, torture, maim and mutilate him if I want to'
I wonder if that is entirely true? So many writers aver their characters take over and are in charge of their destiny. He's already shown he's not entirely under your thumb. Interesting.

Anonymous said...

Viewpoint slippage for a book with multiple chapter/viewpoints? Been there, done that. But, I have a remedy.

Are you writing the chapters is chronological order, or perhaps a random, what-I-feel-like-at-the-time order? Why not do what I do and write in streams. For example, in your book there would be three streams, one for each character viewpoint. All you have to do is focus your writing for (say) a couple of weeks on one stream only, switch and repeat.

In other words you write for a fortnight with only one character viewpoint, so there's less chance of slipping. The next fortnight you can switch and focus on another stream. And so on until you have the components you need, then it's just a matter of assembling them into the chapter order you want.

Then the real fun begins: fixing the inevitable plot errors from writing things out of order...

Queenie said...

Helen, I'm getting there...

Pat, you may be right, but I'm doing my best to keep him under control.

CB, I've heard of that technique, but it's the 'fixing the inevitable plot errors' part that puts me off - I'd prefer to do something more difficult at this stage and save myself hassle later on. But I will keep it in mind, and thanks for spelling it out so clearly, because I understand it better now.