Group Discussion: Instinctual or Logical?

4 Jun

Ray Bradbury once wrote, “Find out what your hero or heroine wants, and when he or she wakes up in the morning, just follow him or her all day.”

Some of our Questions of the Week focused on a debate over whether authors have omnipotent control over their characters, or if characters work as independent devices, sometimes even throwing their creator for a loop. Within the LTWF group, we felt the subject was bigger than a Question of the Week, so today we thought we’d open the topic up for audience discussion:

Do your characters ‘talk’ to you, or do you control them completely? How do independent characters conflict with the writing/editing process? Do you think it’s easier or harder for writers to create a novel if their characters ‘talk’ or not? Do you have any stories of characters or plots going awry unexpectedly?

Then, be sure to participate in the poll below!


13 Responses to “Group Discussion: Instinctual or Logical?”

  1. lepipette June 4, 2010 at 12:41 AM #

    It’s only logical that the characters should talk for themselves. : ) As a writer, you’re creating the preliminary boundaries within which your story takes place – a new realm of reality. It’s the same for the creation of character. Boundaries on personality only allow certain choices to be logical. If you want them to act a certain way in one scene, that creates a limited number of possibilities in how they might act in any other scene in order for the characterization to be seamless.

    Instinctual AND logical, I say!

    The major scenes are created from the way you WANT things to go. The rest of the novel is the story of how the characters get there, and are the developmental process that is predetermined by the final product. Think Sherlock Homes. A writer must look at the outcome, or predicted outcome, and provide a set series of events that logically lead up to it.

    Or, if you write in a linear, unpredictable fashion, then it’s logical story-telling. One event provides the background to the next, building on one another as the character makes the choices relevant to themselves.

    Then again, is character just a plot device? Are they even representations of actual human personalities – what is a personality? This could get very philosophical. : P

  2. Mac_V June 4, 2010 at 1:51 AM #

    I think it’s more fun that my characters DO surprise me. It makes writing an even more exciting adventure. I think of them, but the more I write, the more their personalities come alive and sometimes I’ll write something that they do or say and have to sit back and stare at what I’ve just written and think “where did that come from?.” Half the time, I didn’t even know my character had the line or action in them and it changes the way I look at them and the story. It makes writing more exciting and unpredictable, and it makes my characters even more real to me.


  3. Samantha W June 4, 2010 at 2:34 AM #

    Not only do characters tend to act on their own, the practically create themselves. When I was toying with the idea of making my WIP’s MC a girl instead of a boy, he pretty much told me “NO!”. Lol. But really, when I tried to imagine what Greyson would be like if he were female, it didn’t work at all. That just wasn’t who he was.

    It’s the same with my characters’ choices. I may decide what journey they are going on, and who they will meet, but ultimately it’s the character who decides how he/she will react to the situation I’ve put them in. I may think “This would probably make him angry. Maybe he’ll punch the guy?” but instead, my character may decide he’s become more mature, and walk away with dignity… Um, where did THAT come from?

    Characters do a lot of acting on their own, and that’s why I think some stories “write themselves”. 🙂

  4. Aurora Blackguard June 4, 2010 at 3:26 AM #

    Reading the comments so far, I feel so scared now. I don’t know if my character talks to me or if she/he does what he/she wants. I don’t know if what I’m writing is right then. I’ve been fighting this for a long time, sitting around and just typing out the words that don’t really belong to my character.

    Am I doomed to be a horrendous omnipotent writer for the rest of my life?

    • Savannah J. Foley June 4, 2010 at 9:45 AM #

      No, don’t worry about it. Mandy was just telling me how she’s never been an ‘instinctual’ writer 🙂 You’ll hit your stride.

      • Aurora Blackguard June 5, 2010 at 4:43 AM #

        I hope so! It’s been kind of depressing as well as inspiring reading all of your (you+the other ladies) blogs because you’re all so passionate about your writing and always talking about your experiences and I get so jealous and worried.

        But thanks, Savannah 🙂 Means a lot

  5. Marina June 4, 2010 at 10:42 AM #

    Sometimes it gets pretty frustrating how much my characters boss me around. I want them to go in one direction and they refuse and go in completely another. Sometimes I feel like a bystander. I watch things happen between my characters and then I write them down and even then they sometimes change their minds. I like that most of the time because the scene often becomes much better then the original, I just wish they’d give me a head’s up sometimes.

  6. Sophelia June 4, 2010 at 11:32 AM #

    I don’t normally comment… but this is really an interesting topic. I think it’s really surprising how so many people here are instinctual writers. In my case, it’s a bit of both. I think lepipette kind of touched on it — are characters plot devices? I think it depends on the type of story (e.g. characters as symbols), but in my case the personality of my characters is very crucial in propelling the storyline I have in mind. So yes, I do “create” the character so to speak, but at the same time, once I have that in mind, I still have to get to know him/her and let them unfold naturally.

    So I guess it’s the reverse? Instead of characters dictating plot, my plot dictates the characters? Then again, I think it depends on whether you have a character-driven story or a plot-driven story.

  7. Myra June 4, 2010 at 3:53 PM #

    I prefer to think of it in scientific/psychological terms.

    When characters act of their own volition, it’s really just your subconscious deciding what they would say and do. You don’t consciously think of ever little thing Bob is going to say, right? Usually, it just flies out of his mouth, and when it’s brilliant, you sit there in awe.

    But in reality it’s just your subconscious taking the threads of the story and looping them together logically.

    That way, when you sit down to write and don’t think consciously about every little word, your subconscious takes over. It comes out much more organically when you let instinct take over, but the instinct is guided by logic. Therefore, I think it’s very much both instinctual AND logical, using both sides of the brain–right for creativity and left for logic–to make something.

  8. Harmony June 4, 2010 at 4:55 PM #

    This is kind of complicated. While you are the author of the story, your characters tend to have minds of their own.

    I’m gonna use an example because it makes my life easier. I remember once I was writing a story where two of my characters were engaged. They were in an arguement and I just wanted her to storm off. But instead, ON HER COMPLETE OWN ACCORD because she was a stubborn twit, she took off the ring and threw it him.

    I didn’t plan this at all as you can see and I stopped tying for a moment, staring the screen thinking ‘Did I write that?’ Then little voice in my head: “Yes, yes you did.”

    Wow, I sound like a freak 😛 But anyway, the lot is always gonna go how you want it too. But the little things, like character devolpment and reactions, are not completely your desicion. It’s THEIR journey, not ours.

    Did that make sense? Oh, I hope so “/


  9. A. Barone June 4, 2010 at 7:26 PM #

    My characters talk to me. I’ll have a piece of dialogue in my head and then they’ll begin to ramble. I do however have to control them sometimes. If they’re being difficult then I’ll write them into a situation that requires some creative thinking to move the plot along and then when I go back to re-write that entire section has to get cut because the independence of the characters has mucked up the flow of the story.

    Despite that I think that it is much easier for writers to create a novel if their characters talk outright because it’s so much easier for me at least to just be the channel by which the characters escape from mind to page. The instances where I’m forcing them out onto the page results in silted and quite horrible stuff because there’s no spontinaity.

    Characters taking on a life of their own happens quite a lot to me and it’s happening in the current story I’m writing. I was going to call my main character Jenny, but then she decided that she’d rather be Rose which was fine by me ’cause I love that name better. Also in the same story I’ve had several greek gods pop up out of the blue when I had no intention of them being in the story at all.

    So yeah, my characters talk to me and I love it. ^_^

  10. Angela June 4, 2010 at 7:27 PM #

    Oh good. I`m relieved to know that I`m not the only one and that I`m not possibly crazy.

    One time I was writing and inside my head my character slapped me and said,”Bitch! How dare you make me do that. Erase that line at once!”

    I was so surprised because she was a character in a Regency novel. O.O I thought ladies didn`t cuss or act violently back then.

  11. Cari June 5, 2010 at 10:39 AM #

    I can definitely tell when my characters aren’t happy with me. They start shuffling their feet and crossing their arms and not wanting to participate in any of my scenes. Or, I guess I should say, when I lose their voices, the story turns out horribly wrong. Once I know the characters, their stories tend to flow out. When it stops coming out nicely, I know it’s because I’ve stopped listening to them and started trying to make them people they aren’t.

    I suppose it’s a little bit of both: my characters act independently but they are dependent on me. They depend on me to set the stage, they independently run around on it, but then they depend on me to write it down.

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