Thursday, October 20, 2016

Evolution of Character

Many successful authors of creative fiction recommend outlines of plot and characters before beginning the story. It keeps a writer on track with the storyline and fleshing out the details of a story’s cast of characters. For many writers, already knowing the details of their characters, like description, history, associations, and motivations within the story can enrich their writing, giving depth and atmosphere to the story.

I highly recommend outlining as a writing tool, but this technique just doesn't work for me. The fastest way to kill a story idea of mine is to work out the details of plot and characters in outline form first. They die a swift and horrible death in such a dry, analytical environment. By the time I get to the first page of writing, there is no magic left and I have to let it go.

However, I don’t begin from scratch, sitting down to a blank page with not a thought in my head on plot or character. I make general sketches and keep notes as the story progresses to remember crucial details and keep a logical progression of the story. But the magic in writing is the unexpected evolution of both plot and character. In my writing world, this evolution is driven by the characters.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve begun to write with a storyline in mind and had it go in a completely different, unexpected direction due to the unfolding dialogue and actions of the characters. I’m the creator, so I’m supposed to know where these things come from, but this is why I call it magic. The twists and turns take me as much by surprise as they do my readers. It fascinates me to watch the story unfold beneath my fingers, to see the characters grow and change before my eyes. They begin as two dimensional figures and blossom into beings so real I can almost believe they are alive.

Some might argue this makes my story two-dimensional at the beginning, but the beauty of editing is I can go back and flesh out the characters and storyline, or hack and slash as necessary. This writing method affords me all the creative joy without the life-sucking, mind-numbing effects of the formal outline. I can’t recommend this method to every writer, though. What works for me might drive another author to drink or ruin their writing experience. To each their own. As for me, I’m into evolution.

Happy Reading,
Michelle O'Leary

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