Be true to your characters?

Recently, whilst I was surfing the net, I came upon a post that talked about common themes in novels, not just Fantasy / Sci-fi.  The community was having quite a good poke at some of the themes and, for some of them, I could see why.

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However, my grinning stopped when I spotted one that I had ‘used’ in my own writing; that of the main protagonist starting life as a farm boy. 

man-159771_640This has now got me wondering if I should re-write my main character’s backstory? Much of the rewrite wouldn’t make it into the novel, but there are some areas in the novel that would have to be changed (the reason for him leaving the farm in the first place, for example).

I think the bit that would affect me the most is how I would have to ‘think’ about my protagonist more, it would feel as if he is no longer the same character and, for that, I would think I’ve been dishonest to him. Furthermore, there are subtle elements in the novel that came naturally to me when writing this character and a re-write would make them seem out of place.  Whilst I imagine more will appear as I continue to write the new character, I doubt they will flow as easily as they used to.

This has angered me somewhat as I feel that external forces are attempting to affect my choices in writing before it even begins to take shape.  I’ve always followed the mantras of ‘write what you like to read’ and ‘write for yourself’ and this idea seems to be the complete opposite of that. I think it was Stephen King that said you should write your first draft with the door closed but there are so many things waiting to break it down….

Let’s look at a few examples in this particular area;

* Luke Skywalker was a farm boy and his adventures didn’t do too badly for George Lucas

* Eragon, from the book of the same name also began life on a farm and look how successful Christopher Paolini’s books have become. 

* Stretching the trope a bit further, a certain boy who lived in a cupboard under the stairs and was destined to be a great wizard didn’t harm J K Rowling’s fortunes too much either.

None of these stories hid the fact that their protagonists came from a farm, or in the instance of Harry Potter, from a cupboard. Yet, it seems common practice to look down upon certain circumstances in stories simply because they’ve been done before.

Part of me likes to think that no-one suggested to Lucas that he re-write Luke Skywalker to be someone different, or that Poalini was told to have Eragon grow up the son of an accountant.  But, if that did occur, then the bigger part of me is glad that those writers had the confidence, and the belief in their characters, to say no.

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3 comments on “Be true to your characters?

  1. nosoletude says:

    Well, if it helps any (and it probably won’t) try to just “listen” to what your protagonist tells you about his (or her) backstory. Don’t think it, just listen. A “farm” as metaphor for isolation and yearning for adventure could be thought cliche, but there are millions of young people on farms or living in the country doing just that, right now. There is a certain time in life where your own life seems too small, confining. You need to break free and “see the world”. People can relate to farms being both physically isolating and emotionally isolating, so it is “easy”, however it can also be right and true. Listen to your character – they will tell you. Screw everybody else.

  2. Hi, thanks for responding. I think you’re right. The use of a farm may only be symbolic, a representation of the ‘norm’. In that context, we could use anything to represent that. Ironically, in my own story, the farm is in the past from page one, I just have the character react to things based on his previous farm experience; knowing when certain crops will be ready, knowledge of the weather etc.

  3. […] think this overlaps slightly with a previous post I wrote about being true to your characters, although here I’m looking towards being true to the plot. It’s an attempt to further […]

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