Many years ago, when I was in high school, I saw a film talking about Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, which contained a quote from Ibsen on why Nora leaves at the end. While I don’t recall the exact quote, he essentially said that once he knew the character, he knew leaving was her only course of action. At the time, I recall disagreeing, believing that since he was the writer, he could make the characters do whatever he wanted. I now have a clearer understanding of what he meant.
When I was working on my novel The Long-Timers, which is the basis for my current series The Long-Timer Chronicles, my intention was for Charles and Renee Fox, a couple who have been married for more than eleven hundred years, and who were once members of Shakespeare’s acting troupe, to be the main characters. I also created a secondary character, who was murdered by someone posing as Jack the Ripper, who would come back to life and provide a subplot for the main story about the Foxes. Once I started writing, the character who started out as Vickie Seely and became Victoria Wells, began to grow and develop until she completely took over the whole story. Charles and Renee are still very important characters, and the focus of the second book in my series, called Crazy Like the Foxes, but in the original novel, Victoria Wells was definitely the main character and the main focus of the book. She’s also one of my favorite characters that I’ve created.
Writing is a process of discovery for the writer, and as a work progresses, the characters sometimes take on minds of their own. This was certainly the case with Victoria, who started out as a victim, but grew into a strong and independent woman perfectly capable of taking care of herself. Charles and Renee are, largely, the way I initially envisioned them, but since I started with a blank slate with Victoria, she grew along with the novel and finding new facets of her character was one of the great joys of writing the book. What I ended with was certainly not what I imagined when I began writing, and I was pleasantly surprised at the outcome.
The same has been true of other characters I’ve created. In my full length play, Rebecca, Too, which started out as a script for a short film that was never produced, the title character of Rebecca didn’t even appear in the earliest draft I wrote. When I sat down to expand the short script into a full-length play, I had a lot of notes I’d written on what Rebecca does, but not who she is. As she developed, her character took on new and sometimes dark aspects, all part of becoming a fully formed individual — on paper at least. As writers, we should not be afraid to let our characters become who they should become. We should abandon our preconceptions and constantly ask ourselves is this action true to who he or she is and are there aspects I’m missing?
I would imagine the process is akin to becoming a parent. When a child is born, parents have ideas about how they’d like the child to develop, or the type of person he or she should grow into. As the child matures, however, new aspects of his or her character may emerge the parent wasn’t expecting. The challenge is knowing when to intervene, to correct potentially damaging behaviors or attitudes, and when to step back and allow the child to discover his or her own path in life. This notion is tied to the general human tendency to categorize and define those with whom we associate, making judgments on how a person thinks and feels, based solely on his or her outward behavior. Scratch the surface and a completely different individual may emerge, which is why someone can have a friend one has known since childhood, without ever realizing that person enjoys ballroom dancing or can speak multiple languages.
As a writer, one should never be afraid to explore aspects of a character that diverge from one’s initial notion of who the character is. As a person, one should never simply assume that those with whom one associates share the same beliefs or have the same attitudes as oneself. Sometimes friendship or courtesy may dictate that another person hides aspects of his or her character, believing them to be uncomfortable or potentially disruptive to the friendship. The challenge for us, as individuals, is to be willing to see those we call friends as they truly are, not simply as we would like them to be. While we may learn truths we find discomforting, we may also be laying the groundwork for an even deeper and more meaningful friendship. We all have minds of our own. We should learn to appreciate the fact that those around us do as well and not be afraid to look beyond the outward facade. Who knows what we might discover?