There’s this book I’ve been working on for years. It keeps morphing, and while most of the secondary characters stay the same, the MC has always been a piece of work. He has transformed so many times in my rewrites, and typically somewhere around a quarter of the way through the story, I begin to loathe him. I can’t work with him. He’s lame. He’s weak.
I’ve never had much issues with my characters. I’ve always liked them, or they’re just plain ole’ fun to write about and work with.
But in this umpteenth makeover of this current project called Parallax, I think I’ve finally pinned him down to where I’m able to sympathize and work with him.
How did I achieve that?
I gave him a solid backstory. His character and his past is mysterious, and unfortunately it was also mysterious to me. But I finally uncovered his secrets that even he didn’t know. You see, just because something’s mysterious in the story does not mean it should be mysterious to you as the author. That is a surefire way to write your way into a dead-end.
And I gave him something to fight for. This is imperative, or else there is no reason to have this character in the story. Until now, he was always tossed by the wind. The other characters were guiding him, and consequently stood out more than him. Big no-no. So I gave him a one-eighty. Instead of making him wishy-washy and apathetic, I took away most of that apathy and instead gave him a temporarily superficial drive and goal. A stepping stone, as it were. Sure, it was a big change even for me as his creator, but he wouldn’t be able to achieve anything unless he had some sort of drive.
Lame characters are useless.
Now he has something to be upset about. He will fight, even if it’s stupid for now.
And finally what it really boiled down to was what I wanted to accomplish with this MC. I wanted him to grow and become a true warrior. I was definitely confused by how to achieve this. I knew it would be achievable, but I was having a hard time seeing how exactly to achieve it. He was too weak, and his weaknesses were disabling him from becoming greater. He needed a turning point, and in reworking the story (while keeping the general plot), I finally found his turning point.
A lot of his unworkability came during the outlining stage. It took a long time to work out the kinks, and once I began the actual writing, his character transformed again tenfold. I’m all for outlining, but there are certain things that will work against it once you start writing. And the beauty of it is to just let the story write itself. I let the writing change certain aspects of his character. I really didn’t know how he spoke until he spoke. I didn’t know how his personality would play out until I let it play out on paper.
The key is to keep the balance: stick with the plot, but let the character fight or flow with it as much as s/he can. Let them come alive on the paper.