Monday, October 10, 2011

A Conundrum: Predictable or Unpredictable Characters?

One of the hardest things, I find, is not necessarily the WRITING itself, as in the words, phrases, and clauses.  That's "easy", or rather easiER than writing original characters that will act in unpredictable YET sensible, logical ways.  Writing the words is a matter of drafting, redrafting and redrafting, chiseling away unneeded words like a sculptor. I read voraciously, of craftsmen whose work I adore and want to assimilate into my own craft, I edit and reedit, and have gotten a much better handle on the actual words themselves.

But making "unpredictable characters that still make sense"?

Wow.  THAT I struggle with.


Probably the toughest critique I've gotten yet on a work is that its characters were "stock characters that acted in predictable ways." I have a tough time with this critique, possibly the only critique of my work I don't like.  Not that I disagree.  My characters probably ARE predictable.  That's actually the only knock yet on my Hiram Grange installment, is that you kinda get the idea he's going to do what he can to save the girl, pretty early on in the story.

See, one of the things I HATE most as a reader...no, wait, let me restate: LOATHE WITH AN ABSOLUTE FIERY, BURNING PASSION...is when characters are made to do things so illogical, something that smacks against ALL common sense.  I HATE it when it seems clear the writer is going for something "different" or "new" or "original"...especially when IT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE.

SO, the conundrum.  Are we writing believable characters that could exist in real life, characters we can relate to, that make logical decisions based on the world they're in...or are we writing characters that provide readers with some escape, keep them guessing?

The key, of course, is "suspense of disbelief".  And that all important "stasis" period at the story's start.  Pull the reader in, get them to believe this character is someone who could exist, and then plunge them headlong into something fantastic and unbelievable.  But even then: I'm of the old-fashioned belief, perhaps, that the decisions those characters make SHOULD MAKE SENSE.  Even as a reader, I'll take that over a "crazy plot twist" any day. 

And, I find as a writer, I feel the same way.

The key, I guess, is setting the "world rules" of that work, fine-tuning them and laying subtle groundwork so that in the end, a character's behavior fits. To me, a finely crafted plot twist should NOT leave me screaming and throwing the book across the room because it doesn't make any sense.  It SHOULD leave me smacking my forehead, thinking: "HOLY COW! I'm such an idiot! I totally should've seen this coming back in Chapter 3 when...."

And, of course, you can't predict what every reader will do.  That's impossible.  That's why, for me, my characters will probably always be a tad predictable, because if it's one thing you CAN'T predict, it's readers, and what they will or won't like.

Which is probably why I've taken so long to write things, lately.  Yes, I do want them new and exciting and fresh and original.  But to ME, at least...this stuff has to make sense.  It has to all fit.

And THAT takes a really long time. Not something you can churn out in a month or so.