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Virtual Characters

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this month, and you’re reading this post, you’re either so far along on your book that you have time to burn, or you’ve given up.
Please, don’t give up.

In 2011, John Scalzi wrote about “being fictional“, which was his take on Elizabeth Bear’s post regarding how she is, in the minds of fans who have not met her, essentially, a fictional person.  It’s an interesting thought, I think, that someone can think they know us so well from what we write.  It’s interesting to me because, of course, I realize that I do it all the time.  It’s also interesting because, well, I think that same mechanism is how good characters are made.  Earlier this year, Cory Doctorow wrote a piece for Locus, the speculative fiction trade mag, titled “Where Characters Come From“.  It’s quite good.

In it, essentially, he describes in clear, almost clinical, terms the process by which we come to know our characters.  He says, and I agree, that it’s the same basic process by which we come to anticipate what our actual, real-life friends will do.  Essentially, we spend so much time with them and get to observe their behavior so long that we develop a little virtual copy of them in our brains.  Copies that we can animate and throw into situations and use to predict how we think they might act.

Characters work the same way.
We may start with just the kernel of an idea for a character, maybe a habit or a style of dressing.  But, then we start to imagine things happening to that person and, as we imagine their response, we start to get an idea about who that character really is, much like a new friend.  And, as we explore that character’s world and how they respond to it, we discover more about that character until, eventually, we know them as well as our own flesh-and-blood friends.
And, that, I am told, is when the writing gets really interesting.

So, since I hope not many people are taking the time to read this post this month, because they’re hard at work on their NaNoWriMo novels, I do hope that your characters have become like close friends to you by now.
Good luck and keep writing!


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