The Content of One’s Characters

A New Post!

So I had a disturbing conversation with my friend Mark. It wasn’t meant to be disturbing. In fact, he was trying to be helpful. “Why don’t you publish your vampire stories as e-books? You have a lot of content.”

Content.

And my first reaction was “My characters are not content.” Well, okay, my first reaction was “Really? That’s all they are?” in a heartbroken, sudden revelation of the ways of the world sort of way, but then later, I got a little angry. Not at Mark, who was just trying to be helpful, but at the whole concept of characters as content. I mean, this blog post, that’s content, or writing a power tool manual, that’s content, but a character who shows up unexpectedly and whispers stories in your head? That’s not content.

It may be mental, but it’s not content.

A good character is like the Pied Piper, leading you along with beautiful words, but with no idea where you’re going. You might try to put on the brakes (“Wait, no, you can’t do that!”), but if you deviate from the path, the character will just get sulky and refuse to tell you any more.

Or at least that’s the way they always are with me.

It’s kind of a drawback from a practical point of view. Docile, puppet-like characters who do what you tell them would be a lot easier to work with. But if you know what’s going to happen in a story from one end to the other, where’s the adventure? Instead of following your characters down hidden trails, you’ve got them building walls, brick by brick.

I think that takes all the fun out of it.

Content is very passive. I could delete this whole post without repercussions. Except for the part where I’d have to write another post. But when I did write that new post, I wouldn’t have a character glaring over my shoulder telling me “That’s not how it goes.”

I suppose the reason I find this content stuff disturbing is because I put a lot of myself in my characters. Not in a Mary Sue sort of way. For those who have never read a fan story, let me quickly explain the term Mary Sue. A Mary Sue story is one in which you literally put yourself in the story, not so thinly disguised as someone else. You and Captain Kirk save the universe. You and Edward Cullen kick Bella to the curb. You and Doctor Who do whatever it is that Doctor Who does.

You get the picture.

(Yes, I have written fan stories; yes, some of them are still lurking on the Internet; no, I’m not going to tell you where. The point is that I’m not in them.)

So in the end, they may not be content, but I do have a whole boatload of vampire stories. Maybe they would make good e-books, I don’t know.

I’ll have to ask my characters.

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