The Reinvention of a Character

It’s been a week since my last NaNoWriMo update, and there’s still so much work to do on the novel. Maybe I’ll have the draft done by the beginning of the new year? Maybe I should make that an official goal.

As I continue to work on it — albeit on a much slower pace — I continue to process the things that have happened and how they connect and will shape the things to come. (Well, the ones I know will come. Being a pantser means that I don’t have that many details figured out yet.)

There is one thing I’d love to talk about, but I haven’t figured out how to discuss it without major spoilers. It feels especially wrong to spoil a story that not only isn’t published but also isn’t even complete yet.

So instead, let’s go back to the summer of 2016. I was working on the novel back then but was running into a major road block. The characters were starting to go silent on me. They were lethargic and uninterested in the story, so I took a couple of months off to let them brew more before giving them a fresh start in November.

While all of the characters had fallen into a rut, it was really a duo of minor characters who were the worst. They were cousins, and they started off all right, but they had become indistinguishable from one another and completely flat. It was pathetic.

Whenever this happens, there’s always a huge question about what to do. Do the characters stay but go through some personality therapy or does that part of the story just need reinvented?

I ended up opting for reinventing. To do that, there were a few things that I needed to assess:

  • Why do these characters need to be in the story?
  • What role(s) are they filling?
  • Is there another way to do this?

The answer to the first and second was that I needed at least one more person on the spaceship to handle the engines and air systems, so that meant the character couldn’t be completely eliminated. There’s more to it, but that was really the most important part.

The third question opened up some possibilities. Instead of being two cousins, what if it was just one character instead? There’s something about the dynamic of two people who know each other well, but that wasn’t cutting it. So I decided to trim down to one character and make him more dynamic by himself.

So far, that seems to be the right choice. Of course, who knows what will happen in the next draft?

What do you do when your characters fall into a rut? Have you combined/completely replaced characters in a story?


6 responses to “The Reinvention of a Character

  • The Story in the Frame

    I go with a similar approach of asking questions. It always starts with this kind of intuition: “something doesn’t feel right here.” I try to interrogate that feeling until I come up with the appropriate questions, which typically fall into the realm of “Would this character actually do this? If not, but they do it anyways, how do they feel about acting out of character? They would have to be conflicted, right?” People (real or imaginary) are capable of anything. It’s the aftermath of what they do and how that shapes their perception of themselves that interests me.

    Good luck on everything! Hope the novel shapes up before the New Year!

    • S.B. Roberts

      People are capable of anything. That’s a great point. It’s true: letting characters act out of character leads to some very interesting situations. I feel like I need to explore this. Thanks for the inspiration! :)

  • Josh Glover

    I think I’ve said it before but I really enjoy the way you let your characters lead the story and speak for themselves in a sense, I’m sure it’s a lesson that many many authors could learn a lot from.

    As for your dilemma with the cousins, Terry Brooks’ Shannara novels, there is a recent three part called the Dark Legacy of Shannara and two of the characters in that are twins; Redding and Railing Ohmsford.

    At first I thought that they would be quite flat but I found that he wrote them in very well and you could easily distinguish one from the other especially as the story began to unfold and the character arcs happened; might be worth a read for inspiration or even for a generally decent fantasy novel.

  • Anthony Lee Collins

    Combining characters can work. However, there have been times when I was considering it, but couldn’t because the characters were already established in the world I write about. When you use the same characters all the time, you have limits.

    Sometimes I dump both of the familiar characters and bring in a new one to fulfill a similar role, but I try not to do that. For regular readers, that can make the characters less distinct.

    My third novel will remain on the shelf — maybe forever — mostly because there ended up being two characters who overlapped too much, both of whom had to be there because of their relationships to the other characters. Oh, well.

    I also ended up with two characters who were lovers — one named Sarah and the other named SarahBeth (though she was using an assumed name at the time of their relationship). They were very different personalities, though, so that was less of a problem.

    • S.B. Roberts

      Having an established world certainly makes things more complicated. Fortunately, this one is still so new that the story is moving along fine without the cousin. (That sounds like such an awful thing to say. :) )

      Your poor novel. That makes it very hard. :/

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