By: Stephanie Braxton
Stories usually begin with an idea for a place, an event, or a character. Characters are the driving force of a story and they aren’t always human, or even sentient. It’s arguable that the wallpaper in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” was a character, the way it twisted in the main character’s mind and slowly drove her mad. At the end, you’re left wondering if it truly was all in her head, or if it was real.
Places can be characters, molding and changing the environment in which your story takes place. A good example of this that most of us will recognize is Mayberry, the place where Andy Griffith took place. Especially in North Carolina where the memory of that show is alive and well, when you say Mayberry, everyone knows exactly what you’re talking about. That idyllic little town where the sheriff knows no stranger, and the town drunk puts himself behind bars because he’s so friendly with the law. It’s become a cultural icon, nostalgia for simpler days.
Things happen to your characters and your characters can make things happen within the world of your story. Some of the most fun you can have as a writer is arguing with your characters, the imaginary friends that are always on your mind. They won’t always do what you want them to do, and you may spend many agonizing hours at the keyboard trying to figure out how to get them out of their own mess. As long as you feel something for your characters, you stand a good chance that someone else will too.
One of the most remarkable author/character relationships that I’ve seen is with J. R. Ward and one of her vampire warriors from the Black Dagger Brotherhood, Vishous. Yes, that is the correct spelling of his name.
Ward came out in her Insider’s Guide and confessed to readers that she and Vishous do not get along. In her words, “I don’t like him, and he doesn’t like me.” What’s even more interesting is when she added that she finds it grating to be in his point of view, and in this reader’s opinion, his book was one of the most emotionally punching ones in the series. I’m not much of a cryer, but Vishous got me going.
What can other writers take from J. R. Ward and Vishous? That you don’t have to like every character you write, but sometimes that can make the story better if you run with your gut and write the story you envision. Sometimes characters take on a will of their own and when that life is breathed into them, it is magic.