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Character rising

This is an interesting blog entry on what the writer calls "Self-rising characters"--characters who weren't in the original outline or conception of a story, or who were but were minor at best, who become (spontaneously) fully realized as you are writing because the story needed them, or at the very least, they were a voice inside you somewhere that needed to speak:


I never thought of these characters as being a Mary Sue danger, however. And as the author points out, we use that expression way too much and too lazily. There are very few characters labelled 'Mary Sues' that actually are one by the actual definition, and sometimes, even if they ARE one, so what? Sometimes, that's the whole point of the story/character.

But that's a digression. I have always seen self-rising characters as awesome, because they come from that "Shut up and let the subconscious do the driving" place where your story actually lives. This is why I am a pantser, at least during the first draft, and find outlines so antithetical. The story I really want to tell, and the characters that really need to inhabit it, are locked in a vault on the right side of my brain I can't access during the very left-brained, top-down, before-hand outlining process.

The main character of my first novel, Valerie, was a self-rising character, stepping out from a cast of a dozen names and descriptions to take over the story and make it her own.

In my new story, I had a young man appear out of nowhere to become a love interest of sorts for one of my main characters, who was supposed to eventually get involved with another guy--a guy who as the story evolved developed no chemistry whatsoever with her.

Self-rising Young Man didn't appear spontaneously in the story in order to be a love interest, he entered the story to spy on Ms. Main Character, which he did by seducing her. And then they sort of fell for each other. And doesn't love/lust/hate always read more convincingly when it isn't forced on a character?


( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 27th, 2012 05:52 pm (UTC)
very interesting. I like the term 'self rising' and I have to agree we throw around the title of Mary Sue too easily (there are whole segments of fandom that believe ANY original character in a story is a mary sue). I think some of my best characters were self risers
Jun. 27th, 2012 05:59 pm (UTC)
Self risers come from a deeper place, I think. Not "deep" in the sense of profound, but "deep" in the sense of somewhere inside you that really wants to speak. They have more writer passion built into them, and I think they capture our fire, and we pour more energy into them because of that.
Jun. 27th, 2012 06:04 pm (UTC)
that's a very interesting look at it. You might be right. I can tell you this, in the stories I've published, the self risers have been the most popular characters according to the review i've received
Jun. 27th, 2012 06:08 pm (UTC)
You care about them more, so readers care about them more. They're less cookie-cutter.
Jul. 6th, 2012 11:27 am (UTC)
Jul. 6th, 2012 03:18 pm (UTC)
Are you home from Wales?
Jul. 6th, 2012 09:55 pm (UTC)
yep, well at the parents' in PA. I'll be back in OH on sunday
Jun. 27th, 2012 06:02 pm (UTC)
I'm of the opinion that if characters suddenly appear or become more prominent that they were supposed to be, and/or if a story wants to go in a direction you hadn't planned, you should let it. Some stories just want to be told, and we're merely the conduits they use.
Jun. 27th, 2012 06:12 pm (UTC)
ome stories just want to be told, and we're merely the conduits they use.

This is one reason, before the concept of the subconscious was developed, a lot of writers and creative people believed that they were channeling God or a god when these creative moments happened. Because they appear spontaneously in the conscious mind, at least partially already formed, seemingly "out of nowhere". The word "inspiration" has its roots in the notion that God or gods "breath life into us" or in this case, "breath ideas into us."
Jun. 27th, 2012 06:04 pm (UTC)
Self-rising characters clearly are a separate matter from Mary Sues. If they have even a hint of a distinct personality, they aren't likely to bother any reader or viewer, even if their function in the end is fairly predictable.

I think Mary Sues really only gall in serial fiction or TV series where the same character does the same thing repeated till it grates. In a single book or movie its not likely many readers or viewers will really care if one of the characters fills that role. It's kind of an affectation to mention that such and such character is a Mary Sue in this book or that.
Jun. 27th, 2012 06:25 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I really didn't see where the self-rising=mary sue thing came from.
Jun. 27th, 2012 09:23 pm (UTC)
Valerie! She's quite something, and not surprised she was self-rising. What else would she be?

I've like some of my self-rising characters best of all, but they're definitely far from Mary Sues.
Jun. 27th, 2012 09:28 pm (UTC)
I am still trying to figure out exactly *where* inside me Valerie rose from....

; D
Jun. 27th, 2012 09:30 pm (UTC)
It didn't surprise me that you wrote her, I'll say that! Of course, I'm only about 20% of the way in, so there may be things that will surprise.
Jun. 27th, 2012 09:48 pm (UTC)
Lol, if you're 20% through it, you're reading fast!
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )