But my characters didn't cooperate.

Bramandin

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I've been hearing that it's a pansy excuse to say that you're stalled because the characters aren't cooperating. The author is god and can make any character do whatever they want.

Thoughts? I had to give up on one story because two characters that needed to have scenes together just didn't have any chemistry, and that's not the first time that happened. I feel like I have more control on what happens to characters, but I really can't make them do things that aren't aligned with the way that they are. The characters can give me trouble, but I'm the one who made them that way and put them into situations that don't foster cooperation.
 

tinkerdan

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I'd be surprised if every character got along with every other character just the way they needed to as opposed to every character acting and reacting in a consistent way that fits their character. Which is to say that some characters are not expected to get along or work well together and when or if they have to, then there are either going to be a lot of conflicts or special mitigating circumstances that allow them to get along for the duration. Which means that you will either have to cut that scene if it lacks impact or craft the story to make use of the potential conflicts and end up with something that could be the most powerful scene of conflict and struggle.

If the characters are being themselves and the scene is flat it probably means you are overlooking the higher potential in using the characters as they are at the time they come into the scene and make the scene fit the characters rather than trying to force the characters into a scene that tries to use them out of character.

It is highly likely that you are so intent on a specific chain of events that you are not realizing that you are trying to 'break' your characters to make the scene work. If that chain of events has to happen that might end up 'breaking' your plot and your story when it becomes impossible.

One solution is to come up with a plausible reason for the character to act out of character for that moment. However, it has to be extremely plausible or you will break the reader out of the story and then it's effectively ruin things.
 

Bramandin

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I'd be surprised if every character got along with every other character just the way they needed to as opposed to every character acting and reacting in a consistent way that fits their character. Which is to say that some characters are not expected to get along or work well together and when or if they have to, then there are either going to be a lot of conflicts or special mitigating circumstances that allow them to get along for the duration. Which means that you will either have to cut that scene if it lacks impact or craft the story to make use of the potential conflicts and end up with something that could be the most powerful scene of conflict and struggle.

If the characters are being themselves and the scene is flat it probably means you are overlooking the higher potential in using the characters as they are at the time they come into the scene and make the scene fit the characters rather than trying to force the characters into a scene that tries to use them out of character.

It is highly likely that you are so intent on a specific chain of events that you are not realizing that you are trying to 'break' your characters to make the scene work. If that chain of events has to happen that might end up 'breaking' your plot and your story when it becomes impossible.

One solution is to come up with a plausible reason for the character to act out of character for that moment. However, it has to be extremely plausible or you will break the reader out of the story and then it's effectively ruin things.

I've decided that eventually I'm just going to write a note to my readers, possibly in a one-shot. And straight-up tell them what went wrong and that I'd have to kill Tanya off to continue the story.

In the future, I'll probably do test-runs of all characters so I can create them to work together. Or just not make it so critical for them to have scenes together if they're not working.
 

Swank

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Characters don't exist. If you have a scene that isn't working, change the topic, setting, insert another character, a third situation element or just change the characters into what you need them to be.

I mean this in the friendliest and best possible way: Treating characters as people is a delusion. Cut yourself a break and don't do it.
 

Bramandin

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Characters don't exist. If you have a scene that isn't working, change the topic, setting, insert another character, a third situation element or just change the characters into what you need them to be.

I mean this in the friendliest and best possible way: Treating characters as people is a delusion. Cut yourself a break and don't do it.

Doesn't character consistency matter? Do people complain when you suddenly pull a crouching moron hidden Norris without foreshadowing? Would Black Widow just squeal in fright while someone shoved her into a fridge? (She might squeal in fright, but she'd kick their can before they got the hasp latched.)

My characters aren't real people in that I can make horrible things happen to them and feel proud of myself, but I do accept defeat when I can't get them to grab an idiot ball.
 

Steve Harrison

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I like to think that if I create good characters, they will defy me or protest when I try to make them do something out of character. I realise this is my subconscious at work, but heated 'discussions' with my characters can be very productive.

I don't think it's ridiculous for a writer to say his characters aren't cooperating. I'm just interested in why mine aren't when they look up from the page and say, "hold on a minute. I'm not doing this!"
 

Swank

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Doesn't character consistency matter? Do people complain when you suddenly pull a crouching moron hidden Norris without foreshadowing? Would Black Widow just squeal in fright while someone shoved her into a fridge? (She might squeal in fright, but she'd kick their can before they got the hasp latched.)

My characters aren't real people in that I can make horrible things happen to them and feel proud of myself, but I do accept defeat when I can't get them to grab an idiot ball.
You aren't talking about Black Widow acting like an idiot. You're talking about minor chemistry in a conversation.

Real people aren't "consistent". They say unexpected things, have bad days, change their minds, show unexpected kindness. Only "characters", with their artificially dictated behaviors, offer consistency as an essential element. Characters should be an act of creation where they keep showing new aspects and change.

IMHO, of course.
 

Bramandin

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I like to think that if I create good characters, they will defy me or protest when I try to make them do something out of character. I realise this is my subconscious at work, but heated 'discussions' with my characters can be very productive.

I don't think it's ridiculous for a writer to say his characters aren't cooperating. I'm just interested in why mine aren't when they look up from the page and say, "hold on a minute. I'm not doing this!"

I think this type of "delusion" can be useful as long as it's just the characters going "this doesn't make sense" and not the author blaming them for spending the day playing ToyBlast and not trying to hash it out with them. Y'all need a break, just admit it.
 

chrispenycate

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Every time I turn my back on a character (s)he (or even worse, they) will find an excuse to do something, which wrecks all the preparatory planning I've been doing. I remember one I was certain I'd got well captured in a montain sanitorium in Montana (no, the village in Valais, Switzerland, and they'd quarantined him because he was an extra-terrestrial so might be infectious.) He'd signed a contract promising to follow instructions at the casting stage, but when I got back from writing an extremely boring UN meeting in Geneva there were helicopters flying all around, avalanche dogs everywhere, and no main character (nor a member of staff, all of whom are quarantined too.)

Since this was to be sleeve notes on an LP record I couldn't just keep on writing until they finally deigned to appear, and I finally tracked them down in Sao Paulo, which is not convenient for the United Nations, unashamed and missionary. So finaly the disc was issued on CD, there wasn't space to put the text, and they got no royalties.

I suspect it was somewhere around then I realised I wasn't cut out to br a writer, not even a pantser.
 

Wayne Mack

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Here is a suggestion from Damon Knight on page 174 of "Creating Short Fiction,"

"If you are stopped because one of your characters is refusing to follow the script, it may mean that you don't know enough about the character-probably does-but it can also mean that because you know more about her than you did when you planned the story, you are trying to cram her into a box too small for her. If you persist, you will lose the plausibility of the story, and that's what [your subconscious] is trying to tell you. There are only two solutions to this: let the character do what she wants, or change the circumstances so that she will voluntarily do what you want."
 

Steve Harrison

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I think this type of "delusion" can be useful as long as it's just the characters going "this doesn't make sense" and not the author blaming them for spending the day playing ToyBlast and not trying to hash it out with them. Y'all need a break, just admit it.
Fortunately, writing is an activity in which being delusional is an advantage.
 

AnyaKimlin

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Characters don't exist. If you have a scene that isn't working, change the topic, setting, insert another character, a third situation element or just change the characters into what you need them to be.

Yeah I know that but they don't and I find they don't like reminding of that or they run off on holiday.
 

DLCroix

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I absolutely agree with @Swank on this. I think the problem stems from a misunderstanding of the nature of characters as narrative tools. Because that's what they are, instruments, or in other words, puppets, and you are the master of those puppets, it doesn't work the other way around, don't feel Machiavellian or guilty for being a puppeteer.

This is a prejudice that comes from a romantic conception of the job, but the problem is that from then on the whole thing is wrong. Characters are the most important element of a story, yes, I think we agree on that; but we must not lose control of them.

Anyway, this is just advice, but my personal experience has taught me to always go for the story first and the characters second. "I think, therefore I am", as Descartes said, but that's how it works for me. So, first I look for an idea, and then I start thinking about which characters fit better in it. That's why I know they won't rebel against me. If I need a scoundrel for a comedy, I am clear that if he later becomes a hero, I must reflect in the story actions or doubts of that character in the face of certain facts that allow that transformation to be possible. That to me is consistency. When you don't go against the nature of your characters.

Also, since I usually work with folders of images, and I move according to different random systems that I am creating at the moment, and therefore I only know the main fact of the scene or chapter in question (also I usually work with plot schemes only slightly sketched), I never know if I'm going to move within that folder up or down, so a photo of a church, a flower, a simple color, usually give me the clue of events that I had not imagined but they allow me to go completing the plot and at the same time are as surprising as life itself should be. So if I myself know only general details of the story, my characters obviously know less of what awaits them. The only thing they know for sure is that I'm always going to get them into trouble. Little poor things. :ninja:
 

Teresa Edgerton

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In my own experience, , I have always found that manipulating the characters to fit a preconceived idea of the story results in an implausible plot, so that neither characters nor plot are served. (By the time I become aware of the problem, which is as I am actually writing out the story rather than just outlining it or jotting down ideas, the characters have become more developed, whereas the plot as I first conceived of it was necessarily less developed, as less thought had been put into it at that point. Why change characters who have had time to develop in order to squeeze them into a plot that doesn't fit them and isn't as good as it could—and hopefully will—be? That doesn't make sense to me.)

Yes, the characters are not "real"people, but a well-constructed story convinces readers to believe that those characters are real for the whole time they are engaged in reading the story. If we think of characters as no more than thought puppets that we can make to dance to any tune we choose, we run the risk of carelessly allowing readers to catch a glimpse of the puppeteer/author's hand at work, which can be fatal to the readers' immersion in the story. (Speaking as a reader, once I become aware of how the author manipulates the characters, I no more believe in plotr or characters than Dorothy believed in the wizard after Toto drew aside the curtain to reveal the man standing behind it and working the machine.)
 

Swank

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I really don't think the issue is wildly diverging from our idea of who the characters are. The issue is allowing them to have a little whimsy in dealing with another character during the process of having an interesting dialogue.


These conversations are hampered by a lack of writing examples. Treating topics like this as theoretical is another mistake. It is a ground-able problem.
 
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Teresa Edgerton

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Hmm. To me it sounded more like what the OP was talking about was characters who clammed up instead of having the desired conversation at all.

I must say, on those occasions when my characters stop talking inside my head I have never known how to induce them to do so, even after trying all the cute quick fixes people have suggested over the years. (Which is why I agreed with Steve that being delusional can be to a writer's advantage. When you stop hearing voices you're in trouble.)

Of course there are those other times when my characters have all too much to say.
 

Steve Harrison

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Hmm. To me it sounded more like what the OP was talking about was characters who clammed up instead of having the desired conversation at all.

I must say, on those occasions when my characters stop talking inside my head I have never known how to induce them to do so, even after trying all the cute quick fixes people have suggested over the years. (Which is why I agreed with Steve that being delusional can be to a writer's advantage. When you stop hearing voices you're in trouble.)

Of course there are those other times when my characters have all too much to say.
The delusional aspect is, for me, really helpful, as I can 'discuss' issues with recalcitrant characters and, usually, talk them round by discussing motivations and other aspects. This results in me and the character being figuratively and literally on the same page.

The one exception was the villain in my first novel. He just wouldn't come around when I tried to make him even a little bit relatable so the reader could understand his motivations. However, he was only interested in revenge and had pretty much lost any flicker of humanity. I got around this by telling his backstory (without telling him) late in the novel, which worked pretty well.

It's all part of the creative process, of course, and I can often solve these problems in other ways, such as during a lot hot shower, but I do find arguing with a fictional character a fun kind of collaboration. Or part of my ongoing slide into madness...
 

paranoid marvin

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If you have developed your characters to the extent that you know what they're thinking, then getting them to do something that runs contrary to the way they are is unlikely to end satisfactorily for you.

I wouldn't suggest giving up on the story, or even going back and changing their characters to fit in with the story; but have you considered writing the scenes allowing for their lack of chemistry and willingness to co-operate? Sometimes we are put into situations where we are forced to compromise, sometimes with a person/people that we wouldn't voluntarily have chosen. If your characters are in a situation where they have to co-operate/compromise or die/fail, then that can be more interesting to read about than companions who work well as a team.

Good luck whatever you do.
 

Bramandin

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If you have developed your characters to the extent that you know what they're thinking, then getting them to do something that runs contrary to the way they are is unlikely to end satisfactorily for you.

I wouldn't suggest giving up on the story, or even going back and changing their characters to fit in with the story; but have you considered writing the scenes allowing for their lack of chemistry and willingness to co-operate? Sometimes we are put into situations where we are forced to compromise, sometimes with a person/people that we wouldn't voluntarily have chosen. If your characters are in a situation where they have to co-operate/compromise or die/fail, then that can be more interesting to read about than companions who work well as a team.

Good luck whatever you do.

It's a good suggestion to try to force myself to deal with their lack of chemistry for the experience in case it happens again. The fanfiction would be good if it doesn't interfere with my new project since the characters are already set up. That one character can't keep her moral compass calibrated should make it easier because it causes her to be inconsistent.

There's an interesting divide between people who think that their characters have to do everything the author wants and people who think it's valuable to let the characters have some input on how they'd handle a situation.
 

Toby Frost

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Personally, I find the whole "My characters surprise me" thing to be too twee for my liking: "I had a better idea so I did that instead" feels truer to me. However, the thing that you have to realise when attempting to give writing advice is that different people think and work in different ways, so just to say "No, stupid, they're not real" doesn't really achieve anything.

The author is god and can make any character do whatever they want.

The author is god, but clearly even gods make mistakes. I think it's fairly common (for me, at any rate) to start with a vague idea and for the character to deepen itself or to change as writing goes on. Therefore, the "rules" by which the character originally operates may not work later on. There's also the fact that the plot may require certain things to happen no matter what and the characters have to act as realistically as possible around that.

There's an interesting divide between people who think that their characters have to do everything the author wants and people who think it's valuable to let the characters have some input on how they'd handle a situation.

I think it's more accurate to say that some authors are more conscious than others about how the characters develop.

In my own experience, I have always found that manipulating the characters to fit a preconceived idea of the story results in an implausible plot, so that neither characters nor plot are served.

Exactly. It has to work. At the end of the day, whether you want to use a metaphor about characters doing their own thing or not, you have to be honest and ruthless in getting rid of stuff that doesn't work.
 

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