Arguing with characters

I wrote a chapter. It flowed out pretty easily, as the character who’d finally re-encountered the protagonists has some pretty strong opinions about what was going on.

And then I blocked on more. I just couldn’t get the next scene. Finally, I made insomnia useful and lay in bed writing first sentences, trying them out as story seeds. I knew what needed to happen, more or less, so I should just be able to force it…

And then I stared because I’d written “(Character) was getting tired of (action she’d take in background in the last chapter.)” And nothing further would come.

Oh, right. She had done that pretty recently, and then not that long before that, and… yeah, that was repetitive, wasn’t it? But it made the story move along pretty well.

What would happen if she hadn’t done that?

Well, my chapter just got a lot more complicated, and I have to cut 700 words. And now I have three people with very strong, and very different, reactions to current (in-world) politics in this conversation, because they’re coming from 3 different factions.

I managed to re-use a lot of that 700, but now I have two chapters with 1000 more words on top of that, a lot more explanation of political factions, and much clearer motivations for a temporary alliance (it started at gunpoint, it’ll end in essentially an arms deal.)

I think this is the closest I’ve come (that I can remember at 11:30 at night) to what Sarah Hoyt describes as her characters arguing with her.

Do yours argue with you? And how?

42 comments

  1. It’s worse when they clam up. “What does [character] say next?” (Crickets)

    “Come on, what’s next, and who says it?” (More crickets)

    1. Clam up. Oh, yes.

      In an outline I usually take what was going to happen next and reverse it.

      In a draft, I often give them some time off while I work on another story.

    2. The same thing happens to me. I put A in one chair and B in another chair and say “Go!” and they just sit there. If they got up and started punching each other I’d know what to do.

      1. This is why I started outlining.

        Too many times, the characters would just STOP DOING THINGS.

        So I started to make the first outline REALLY rough. Until they coughed up everything they would do until an ending, they got the really rough first draft, aka the outline.

  2. Character A: “Ok, why am I wandering around here risking getting eaten by monsters and/or assaulted by dolls with little iron skillets for this girl? I barely know her, she’s not been especially honest with me, and I don’t even know she’s in trouble. Why shouldn’t I just go home?”

    Character B: “Oh, so you say my late husband was an important emotional figure iny life? You know, I’d sure like to meet the fellow before you go sending me off to invade planets run by mad gods.”

    Author: “Ok, grabbing the kid was a clever exploitation of the hero’s weakness, but now they’ve caught up to you and you’ll need to fight. What the heck do we do with the kid?”

    Character C: “Meh. Let him go, I guess?”

    Author: “As much as I appreciate keeping the content rating below ‘dear God no’ your whole thing is eating people and seeing them as inferior beings. Why the sudden bout of mercy?”

    Character C: “I dunno. You’re the author. You tell me.”

    Author: “…”

    1. Is Character C an alien? If so, maybe there’s some kind of cultural thing about eating kids, like how with humans we have laws about not hunting fawns and not keeping small fish.

      1. It ended up being more that the character was deeply ambivalent about the whole thing but it took a while to sort out the combination of compulsions and conflicts that make that character tic.

  3. I have learned not to argue with them anymore.
    I just let them get their way.
    Witness the short story that became a four book series because SOMEBODY wasn’t DONE and had a lot more to say. It’s worse when they gang up on you, trust me.

    1. *looks at Combined Operation series*
      Twitch was supposed to be a minor character, mainly used for comic relief as one of those dudes whose sense of humour gets ramped up when the fecal matter hits the oscillating device. And then he turned up on a balcony… and in a bored husband chair… and I have a series…

      He wasn’t arguing with me like Mika is, he just kinda showed up and took charge, and I followed the trail of mayhem.

    2. Hey, you’re here too? We should become buddies.

      I had a character I wrote in an early draft of a series I wrote for my wife who, in said first draft, was basically an NPC. In the (much better) re-write she shoved her way onto the main cast after appearing far sooner than in the previous (much worse) version.

      1. I’ve been here for a while, I only post occasionally nowadays – I know far too many of these miscreants 🙂 Yet, amazingly they all still let me go to dinner with them!

  4. Problems with commenting — possible duplicate.
    —————–
    My nagging problems run in a different direction — proliferation and authorial responsibility. I can provide lives for the primary characters, but then there are all these interesting secondary characters who can’t just bumble along in place, now can they? They all have lives, too, and someone has to be in charge and make those up so the reader can immerse.

    For example, series 3 has a pile of servants and eventual business employees, many of whom have reasonably prominent (if occasional) roles. They need career paths and backgrounds (and family plans). And then there are the new folks we meet in each book, some of whom win a “you’re alive!” ticket, too.

    I find myself delving into my realworld business management experience, with spreadsheets tracking the income of the primary hero from his businesses (there’s a series-long premise about his growing into a financial power), and vacation plans for “employees”, as well as recruiting plans. Then I have to tone it down to the minimalist impressionistic wisps required, to not slow down the readers.

    This is a version of attacking novel problems (authorial godhood) with the tools one already has.

    Verisimilitude run amok.

  5. My nagging problems run in a different direction — proliferation and authorial responsibility. I can provide lives for the primary characters, but then there are all these interesting secondary characters who can’t just bumble along in place, now can they? They all have lives, too, and someone has to be in charge and make those up so the reader can immerse.

    For example, series 3 has a pile of servants and eventual business employees, many of whom have reasonably prominent (if occasional) roles. They need career paths and backgrounds (and family plans). And then there are the new folks we meet in each book, some of whom win a “you’re alive!” ticket, too.

    I find myself delving into my realworld business management experience, with spreadsheets tracking the income of the primary hero from his businesses (there’s a series-long premise about his growing into a financial power), and vacation plans for “employees”, as well as recruiting plans. Then I have to tone it down to the minimalist impressionistic wisps required, to not slow down the readers.

    This is a version of attacking novel problems (authorial godhood) with the tools one already has.

    Verisimilitude run amok.

  6. Me: OK, you’re the eccentric boss who is a bit of a stable point in the MC’s world, and happens to have an odd name.

    Arthur: [raises eyebrows, folds arms] Really.

    Me: Aw nuts. Not again.

    Worse is when you think you have everything, and a pack of characters sulls up and says, “Nope, you need to do more research to sort out our motivations and culture. Come back later when you Have A Clue.”

    1. More like:

      “Me: OK, you’re the eccentric boss who is a bit of a stable point in the MC’s world, and happens to have an odd name.

      Arthur: [raises eyebrows, folds arms] Really. Have you met my brother?”

      😎

  7. [Commenting difficulties — this might be a duplicate.]

    My nagging problems run in a different direction — proliferation and authorial responsibility. I can provide lives for the primary characters, but then there are all these interesting secondary characters who can’t just bumble along in place, now can they? They all have lives, too, and someone has to be in charge and make those up so the reader can immerse.

    For example, series 3 has a pile of servants and eventual business employees, many of whom have reasonably prominent (if occasional) roles. They need career paths and backgrounds (and family plans). And then there are the new folks we meet in each book, some of whom win a “you’re alive!” ticket, too.

    I find myself delving into my realworld business management experience, with spreadsheets tracking the income of the primary hero from his businesses (there’s a series-long premise about his growing into a financial power), and vacation plans for “employees”, as well as recruiting plans. Then I have to tone it down to the minimalist impressionistic wisps required, to not slow down the readers.

    This is a version of attacking novel problems (authorial godhood) with the tools one already has.

    Verisimilitude run amok.

  8. [Commenting problems — apologies for possible duplicate…]

    My nagging problems run in a different direction — proliferation and authorial responsibility. I can provide lives for the primary characters, but then there are all these interesting secondary characters who can’t just bumble along in place, now can they? They all have lives, too, and someone has to be in charge and make those up so the reader can immerse.

    For example, series 3 has a pile of servants and eventual business employees, many of whom have reasonably prominent (if occasional) roles. They need career paths and backgrounds (and family plans). And then there are the new folks we meet in each book, some of whom win a “you’re alive!” ticket, too.

    I find myself delving into my realworld business management experience, with spreadsheets tracking the income of the primary hero from his businesses (there’s a series-long premise about his growing into a financial power), and vacation plans for “employees”, as well as recruiting plans. Then I have to tone it down to the minimalist impressionistic wisps required, to not slow down the readers.

    This is a version of attacking novel problems (authorial godhood) with the tools one already has.

    Verisimilitude run amok.

  9. I just worked through that this morning. I have a pair lined up to maybe fall for each other. However, the woman said such awful things, I personally couldn’t see the man recovering any interest in her after hearing what she said. Then I realized she was mad at the guy. Then I realized why, and it’s the same reason he’s mad at her brother. Then, then, then, I realized she does like this fellow, and the surface mad is a cover for how obnoxious he was the last time they saw each other.

    I know that’s clear as mud, but it’s clear to her. Even more betterer, it’s finally clear to me. I’m glad I let her be awful. The back brain was doing useful things.

  10. My characters used to tell me what they thought should come next. I would then have to insert some sort of conflict to keep the story going because no one wants to read about some homebody curling up on the couch in front of the fire for thirty pages. Then I’d sketch out some more backstory that should be motivation for the next scene and scratch my head what kind of dialogue goes with it. Then the character would usually show up again, tell it ain’t happenin’ pal. “Try, try again.” Maybe around the fourth or fifth iteration it would finally feel right.

    I haven’t had any characters talk to me though since I started chemo last year, so I haven’t been writing at all, not even scenes without specific characters. I can barely read now. Most of my reading this year has been on AudioBooks.

    1. Yeah, chemo ate my brain for a lot longer than the actual treatment. Who knew “chemo fog” was a real thing until personally experienced? Sympathies…

      1. Pretty much. I had Plans for a character, and a secondary character said, “No, not going to happen. Here’s the massive complication I’m going to throw into your plan, oh author.” Which completely derailed, oh, two books at least. *facepaw*

  11. I wish my characters were galley slaves, doing what they’re told.
    Instead, they tell me.

  12. Yep, I quit arguing and just starting watching the mayhem and taking notes… At least none of mine have jumped books (yet)…

      1. A venerable tradition. Morgan Le Fey was originally the Matter of France, and Maid Marian had a long independent existence before she did a cross-over with Robin Hood. (Fortunately for her. May Day plays have fallen out of favor.)

  13. Book 3 is being a pain right now. Partly due to the characters not talking to me, and partly due to needing to do more weaving my fictional elements into real world events.

    I probably need to sit down and do a proper outline (something that I didn’t do for books 1 and 2).

        1. Ly’n B’stard Johnson?? You were a bit too gentle with his fate IMO.

          But, loved how you made the current Little Crappy Ship concept work.

  14. This is what constantly happens to me. They argue. They complain. They refuse to go along with the great idea I just had. They tell me “No, idiot, I would never say that.”

    Yep, pretty ‘normal’ for whatever values of normal apply to my crazy writing method.

  15. I’m more frustrated when they don’t tell me stuff. The space opera hero spent most of the last third of book 2 (still in revision) being mad at the heroine about some crazy plan of hers, and refused to tell me why for most of the rough draft process…until after I’d written the scenes where they quarrel. *facepalm* Not looking forward to those scenes in revision.

    On the other hand, the hero of the Gothic Dunedain idea (currently in outlining) is very upfront about not wanting to be king.
    Me: “Look, it’s your vocation.”
    Him: “My vocation is to protect people from the supernatural yet empirically provable threats that lurk in my world. Sitting on a throne does nothing to help me achieve that.”
    Me: “The hands of a king are the hands of a healer.”
    Him: “I’m a medical doctor! There’s nothing mystical about that part of my work.”
    Me: “Except the magic metal thing.”
    Him: “Anyone with enough knowledge and even a trace of Atlantean ancestry can use it. That includes most of the people on the continent at this point.”
    Me: “Well, at least you come at it from a place of self-confidence, not self-doubt. I’m not superfond of the Hamlet Aragorn thing from the movies.”
    Him: “Whatever that is, it doesn’t sound like it’s any of my business. If you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.” (Exit, stage left, pursuing a werewolf.)
    Me: “Well, I guess I need to make the whole king thing work better with his plans. At least he’s honest about what he wants.”

      1. Hmm, interesting idea. So far, his homeland is this kind of Hapsburg empire thing with a largely self-running bureaucracy, and a quasi-elected kingship. (Risk of baddies being raised to the throne is I think the lever I would use to get the hero to cooperate with being kinged. Unlike Aragorn, his love interest is not any kind of superior being he needs a crown to be worthy of, so she’s not really a motivating factor either.) A disreputable lookalike relative would certainly add to the Ruritania/Graustark vibe. Thank you!

        1. I have a Medieval comedy that comes out to share a funny scene with me, on occasion. Fortunately not seriously pressing for me to actually write it. 50-50 chance the next silly scene will involve a look alike Prince . . . actually the Bishop would be funnier.

    1. Stubborn, self-assured, a little grumpy, “I’m a doctor, not a king…” Is this character played by DeForest Kelley, by any chance? Because that’s how I read his lines.

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