Write a Character as Stubborn as You Are!

When does a character stop being a cardboard cut-out of a person and start being an obnoxious, whiny toddler that you’ve brought into the world? When you get to know them. I don’t mean filling out lists of questionnaires on hair color, eye color, and three main personality traits. I mean nitty-gritty staring contest. A battle of wills between you and the unfortunate soul at the center of your story.

Let’s look at Golden as an example. I could rattle off facts and figures about her life and looks. I “met” her when I was only ten years old. Through every iteration of my novel, she has looked the same and kept the same moral principles. I know her very well, and yet she surprises me. She is brave when I cannot be, mean when I expect her to be kind, and gracious when I expect her to be selfish. In the last three pages of the novel, she made a shocking decision that simply flowed from my fingers like I had planned it all along. She is her own person and makes her own decisions. If you cannot control your protagonist, then you have done your job well.

But how do you get here?

Let them walk into your mind, let them look around. Let them pull out your memories and say, “I’ve felt that too”. Ask them how they feel when no one is watching. How do they fill up space? What are their favorite movies, foods, and songs? Who and what would they choose to be with them if they were stranded on an island? This can be awkward. It’s ice-breakers and stunted conversations. If they don’t answer immediately, just breathe. They will.

Obscured but solid

During drafting, I was following a plot I’d scratched down in a little notebook. I had only plotted the broad strokes, though. The rest burst from my brain like I was rapidly recording the events as they happened. This is because my characters are so firmly rooted in reality.

This topic makes me think of Mary Shelley. She called Frankenstein, the novel, her own hideous progeny. She birthed a “monster” just as her protagonist did. Like so, a character is not just words on a page. They should sit next to you, hold your hand, scare you. Let them annoy you and stomp on your feet. When you hear a new song and their little voice shouts ‘me! me! me!’, listen to it. You’re not crazy. When you’re frantically typing a climactic scene and you stop, wondering why you feel something is wrong, listen to it. I have had these characters flirt with each other when they weren’t supposed to and make ugly mistakes where they were supposed to have triumphed.

The thesis of this piece is to let your character be an obnoxious pain in the butt. Let them be the kid who’s yelling in the grocery aisle while you sigh exasperatedly. Be proud of them. Support them. Let them be as stupidly stubborn as you are.

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