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Characters are people too - and stubborn ones at that! - Susan-Alia Terry

Characters are people too – and stubborn ones at that!

May 3, 2023 | Writing

The following was originally posted in 2013 – it was my first blog post, in fact. As it’s been a decade, I think it’ll be fun revisiting these old posts with added commentary.


Lately I’ve been engaged in what I thought was the final edit and light revision of my novel, Dark Rising.  Light revision i.e. corrections/adjustments in continuity, character titles etc – nothing big. But the light revision turned into major revision as I read certain sections and felt a burning desire to deepen the plot — thicken the flavor. So, those of you who are like “she hasn’t finished that damn book yet?” that’s why!

During my revisions, I’ve run into a bit of a snag. Why? Because I am damn stubborn and really slow to learn from the past. A little history:

The first time I did NaNoWriMo, I tried to kill a character. I say “tried” because he refused to die. Refused. Unbeknownst to me then, we had a conversation that I would end up having with other characters in the years following:

Him: “I’m not dying.  I won’t let you kill me.”

Me: “But you have to die — it’s a climactic point! I’m killing you — why am I arguing with you? You’re not real.”

Him: “Nope.  Not dying.”

See how calm he is? How aggressive and unhinged I’m getting? Yeah. He didn’t budge. So, I was stuck — I literally could not write. It felt like constipation, I kid you not. Had no idea what to do. When I finally got to the I-have-no-idea-what-to-do stage, and was open to suggestion, he spoke again:

Him: “So, what if I faked my own death?”

Me: “Go on.”

Him: “Well, I’d be effectively dead for the story, right?”

Me: “Right…”

Him: “And I could come back in at another point or be in another story altogether, right?”

Me: Heavy sigh. “Right.”

In the end he got his way.

So when I had a problem and got stuck in the early stages of Dark Rising, do ya think I immediately knew that one of my characters was in distress and needed to talk it out?

Of course that would be too easy.

But eventually, after much wailing and gnashing of teeth, I figured out that Uriel had a problem with his role in the narrative.

Uriel: “You are making me the villain. I AM NOT the villain.”

Me: “No, I’m making you an unwitting pawn, not the villain.”

Uriel: “I see. No.”

Me: “But, the plot…”

Uriel: “No.”

An argument with Uriel – wait, I can’t even call it an argument. He just flatly refused to discuss it until I had come up with something he was not only willing to do, but that aligned with his position as an Archangel.

Back to the present. I’ve been stuck for over 2 months now. All together now: “Did you immediately know that one of your characters was in distress and needed to talk it out?”

Ha! Of course not! It took almost 3 months for me to figure it out! :face palm:

This time it’s Lucifer that has a problem. In my defense, as I was revising this particular section, I wasn’t clear on how it was changing — I just knew I wasn’t satisfied and it needed to change. So this section was difficult to begin with. I thought things changed once I got clear on the scene and knew what was going on. Still no writing. Still no idea as to why not. AHHHHHHH!

It wasn’t until this weekend that I realized that we had to have “the talk” and I needed to sit with him to address his concerns. After having gone through these instances, my feeling is that I need to get to a place of openness and willingness to listen. I have to let go of the control — and how frightening is that?

Anyway, I knew what I had to do, but was reluctant. It’s one thing to talk to a “fictional” character, or a fictional adaptation of an Archangel. But Lucifer was different, he has so much psychic baggage in this culture, and I was nervous about bringing that baggage into the discussion.

In the end though, it was fine. In my story he is an Archangel, and that’s who showed up. I’m not going to recount our talk — he has a thing about showing weakness. But it went much like the ones above. I explained that my narrative required certain hardships from him, then asked him to trust me, that what I’m moving him through will be all the better for him in the end. I do have his highest good in mind, as I do with all my non-villainous characters. He’s still reluctant, but I feel he is willing to move forward. We shall see.

P.S. Kai is bursting with pride right now. He wants me to let you know how much I appreciate him because he’s so easy to write. (Of course he’s one-upping Lucifer. Boys will be boys!)

Ten years down the road, some things have changed, some things haven’t.

Dark Rising became Coming Darkness.

I’m still stubborn. But I think that stubbornness has evolved. I know my characters now, I know what they would and wouldn’t do. They trust me and I trust them. That familiarity lead to different struggles.

For example Kai’s first encounter with Lucifer in Dreaming in Shadow. I had originally written it with him in control of the scene. For the longest time I knew it wasn’t working and I stubbornly rewrote it thinking that I’d magically stumble upon the right combination of words to make the scene work.

Nope. I was the one in the way. I had to give up control. I had to let Kai follow Lucifer’s lead, and he was happy to do so. That is the crux of their relationship and I’d forgotten that because I had ideas of how the scene should go. I wasn’t listening to my characters. It was a valuable lesson. I love that scene now. Love to see them discovering each other.

A man hanging upside down on a cross. One foot is crossed, his hands are crossed behind his head.

I look forward to the lessons I’ll learn with each successive book. Don’t look forward to the frustration caused by my eventual stubbornness. The best I can do is remember the energy of The Hanged Man, remember to get comfortable in my discomfort, to let go of my expectations and allow myself to see things (the story) from a new perspective — the characters telling their story.


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