Monday, January 7, 2013

Stranger Than Identification

I had an epiphany last week. It didn't come while making resolutions or while diligently writing. Nope. It happened while watching Stranger Than Fiction, a Will Ferrell movie where he lives the life of a character being written in a novel. The concept of the movie was unique and while it provided a few laughs there was one specific moment that stuck out.

Will Ferrell's character meets the woman writing the novel and when he walks through the door to meet her, the reaction astounded me. She shakes, mouth agape, hardly able to speak as her creation moves towards her. And then it hit me...


I can't do that. I haven't done that. If I sat in a coffee shop and my character walked through the door I may have a flicker of recognition but they could walk right by and I'd never get weak in the knees. I'm sure by now most of you are reading this and giving me a stern "tsk, tsk". This is Writing 101, right? You would think, but I've read many a YA novel with flat, uninteresting characters. Authors tend to peg down a famous face as the physical representation of their character, add in a few quirks, and call it a day. Not that there's anything wrong with a celeb look-a-like, but is THAT your character? If that celebrity walked through the door would you be weak in the knees, crazy about how much they represent your leading character? Or would you be stoked a hot celebrity was walking in? I'm sure we both know that answer.

My point is this: your characters are yours and yours alone. It is your job, your responsibility, to be the Picasso of their lives and paint them so precisely that your readers invest in them like real people. They are real people to you. Do I sound crazy yet? You need to invest time in them, from their physicality down to their favorite pair of shoes if you expect your audience to do so too. If you think this is a little severe, you may be right, but look at Heath Ledger as the Joker, Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump, or Natalie Portman in V For Vendetta. SHE SHAVED HER HEAD! Live inside your characters and write their lives from the inside out.

Thoughts? Opinions? I'd love to hear them! :)  


  1. I liked that movie, Stranger Than Fiction. It was a cool concept.

    I totally get what you're saying about living inside your characters head. I really dislike one-dimentional characters and I know I've been guilty of writing them in the past. If I work on a chapter and I'm not sure how my character would react in a certain situation or I don't really care what happens to them, I know I need to be more in touch with my character. That's when I usually try to go back, develop their background more, pinpoint their goals and motivations, and then work on the details, too, like interests and flaws, etc.

  2. I think everyone is guilty of it, and if they're not - kudos to them! I'm definitely much stronger with plot and that is the part I enjoy writing the most. My biggest hitch is learning how to transcend that passion into my characters while tying it in to my plot. To put it plainly, I'm constantly putting the cart before the horse :( I really like your point about feeling apathetic. That's a great way to catch that you're not inside your character!

  3. Great post, Haylee. I'm the opposite. I'm better at creating characters than I am plot.

    I actually freaked in August when I SAW one of my main character. A seventeen-ish boy, tall, dark & handsome, driving a black jeep out of a posh neighborhood. It wasn't just that he LOOKED like my mc and drove the same vehicle though. The dude gave me a friendly wave and a lopsided grin. Like me character, you'd think the guy could have a big head since he's good-looking, lives in a nice 'hood, & drives every teen boys' dream car. He wasn't though. He was friendly. He seemed confident, yet not cocky. It was a good way! : )

    1. I'm jealous, haha! Now I feel confident that I can give my characters what they deserve. It sounds funny, but they do deserve as much attention as I give my plot. Your main character sounds like a babe!