tagHow ToWhipping Your Characters Into Shape

Whipping Your Characters Into Shape


In the wonderful world of novel creation there happen to be a number of pieces required to make the novel come together. As well as a healthy dose of plot, setting, and premise, the entire story almost always hinges upon the actions of the characters. Unfortunately for many budding authors, characters are not always the most cooperative beings in existence, as we all very well know. We're not mad, it's just those characters being the stubborn little bitches that they are! But for your sake, here is an article on how to get your characters and keep them in line.

Step one: Write a story! Sure, you might have characters wandering around in your head, but what good is keeping them in line if you don't have any reason to be controlling them and their urges. If they're just lounging around in the depths of your mind and drinking beer while you're doing absolutely nothing, there's no point in getting them to cooperate. They're just extensions of your imagination, as much as you may sometimes feel otherwise. Once you've gotten started on the story, that's where the real trouble begins, anyway. There's this thing called a plot and often times, the cast doesn't want to cooperate with the devious wiles of a world gone mad... at least, not the way you want them to.

So get writing. Whether or not you're an outliner, you're going to find that you require at least some notion of the direction of the plot, or your story will epically crash and burn. Generally once you're a few chapters in and the story's hinging on a critical moment, then you're going to find the problems begin. Joe doesn't want to fuck Cindy, because he's decided he's gay and damned if he's going anywhere near that women. And also, he crossdresses. And his father is trying to fuck Cindy as well, but since his father traveled forward in time he is younger and hotter than Joe.

Cindy isn't interested, and she's decided to take up a career in knitting, never mind that it's never going to support her and her illegitimate daughter. And that daughter of hers? She's a whore... who's trying to... take over... the universe? What? Really? And Deva was supposed to be evil!

Now that your story is in a nice, neat tangle, nowhere near the outline you'd initially created... now you need to get them back on track.

Step two: Find out the weaknesses of your characters. What makes them tick? Addictions? Love? Family? If you didn't start your story knowing these things, get busy. Make a list of all of the myriad of things you can use to get into their minds in revenge. If they're going to kick around in your head while trying to do things you really don't want them doing, you need blackmail, and that requires a decent amount of knowledge of the character you're trying to control.

Find out what their motives are, who they love, and what they want most in life. Find out who they hate, find out who their nemesis is, find out whether their grandmother is dying of cancer.

Then destroy them.

Step three: Pile up a soul-crushing load of misery upon your character. If they're not going to cooperate with the plot, the least you can do is make their lives absolute and utter hell. Kill their loved ones. Have the mafia show up and take their children hostage. Inflict them with erectile dysfunction and an uncontrollable aura of sexiness when they are absolutely unable to do a damn thing about it. Drop them naked in the snow on a cliff and inform them that they're not getting their smokes unless they hook up with Cindy and they do it now.

Disregard the voice in your head suggesting that at this point you may possibly be unhealthily obsessed with your characters. It's not your fault they came to life in your mind. It's your job as the writer to keep them constrained. You are the master and they're your bitches.

Make their lives absolute misery.

Step four: Once you've managed to successfully make your character's lives miserable, offer them a chance to get out of the soul-crushing pile of horrible, soul-crushing misery... if only they cooperate with you.

If this works, congratulations! Your story is now on track.

Chances are by this point, though, your characters absolutely hate you. That's okay. You have tons of creativity left. Simply shove them off of a cliff and make new ones. No one will notice if you find and replace Joe with Bob. No one but their loved ones.

Step five: But you like your characters and you don't want to destroy them. Well, whoop-de-doo. Fine, then. It's up to you to gain a love of character torment. If they're not going to cooperate but you can't make yourself end the torrid affair with figments just too real for their own damn good, the only option is to make their lives hell, and get off on it.

If you can't get back to the original story, the character torment is likely to be interesting in its own right.

Step six: Alternatively, you can simply write an outline before you start and, when your characters start coming to life on their own, you can ignore them and just keep writing. This is the best way to keep a story on the initial train track, but it does prevent interesting evolution as your characters bring themselves to life and introduce you to their history, present, and future.

A little bit of indulgence in un-outlined writing may introduce new lines to your story you never imagined, and your imagination itself will carry you past writer's block... at the cost of a few mentally traumatized characters and the ever-present wonder: am I really still sane?

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