I'm wrestling with a hero at the moment. "Half your luck," you say, and yes, he is tall, dark and gorgeous, but he's also fictional. But for a man who currently lives only in my imagination it's somewhat of an irony that he just will not behave. Characters — mainly heroes — nearly always give me a hard time.
I can draw up a character outline — he's this kind of person, he's that, he has this backstory, he wants this but really he needs that, and his main problem is this, which is really causing him that. And it will all look fabulous — in note form. And then I start writing and he shows up on the page and he's nothing like the man I planned, around whom the whole plot was supposed to revolve. So then I have to write on and find out who this irritating fellow is, and what his problem is! And he will only reveal things in his own good time. Which is one of the reasons pre-plotting rarely works for me.
But frustrating and inefficient as this might seem, I would rather wrestle with a difficult, slippery, recalcitrant hero than have an obedient chap who does exactly what I want him to. Why? Because the difficult ones are already three-dimensional, even if I can't see all those dimensions yet, and at some stage in the story they'll do something unexpected that will completely surprise me. And if a character surprises me, they'll certainly surprise the reader, and that's a good thing.
An example of this was my hero for my first Berkley book (The Perfect Rake.) I'd planned the hero to be one of those classic alpha types, a dark and dangerous brooding rake. Instead onto the page strolled Gideon; flippant and funny, charming and completely out of my control. I wrestled with him for ages, trying to turn him back into the dark, angsty brooder. He utterly refused, so in the end I gave up and let him be who he was. He's still one of my most popular heroes. (And Berkley have just given him a new cover.)
Then there was Harry (in His Captive Lady), who was taciturn to the point of rudeness, communicating with a few mmmphs and the occasional grunt. What do you do with a hero like that? He just would not speak. Stubborn. Worse, he was paired with a minor character, a charming Irishman who was in danger of out-heroing the hero. I was so worried readers wouldn't connect with Harry, but I couldn't make him any different — each time I tried, his dialogue just rang false. I had to be true to who Harry really was, show him deep but silent and let his actions speak for him. It worked. (You can read an except here and see how taciturn he is.) But silent or not, readers adored Harry. And I used Ethan, the charming Irishman, as the foil.
But then, because I knew readers would want Ethan's story, (as did I) I gave him a romance in a subplot that got so interesting and involved but irrelevant to the central story that it ended up being played out over two books. Trouble!
Minor characters give me trouble, too; feisty old ladies, a stray kid, the hero's friend, even a walk on and off character can spring up, wanting to dominate the story, trailing enticing shreds of intrigue wherever they go. But minor characters should only exist to serve the story, so no matter how interesting or engaging they are, I have to prune them back and squash them. Readers still write wanting their stories.
I'm learning that when a character gives me trouble, it's usually a good thing for the book, if not for my peace of mind. A tame character who does everything I want runs the danger of being bland, ordinary, predictable. Which is death to fiction.
It's a big turn-off for me as a reader, the too convenient character, or the puppet character, who will act as the plot requires it, or the kind who turns out to have acquired — somehow — a skill for every crisis. It's the knots and hollows, the secrets and scars —the unpredictable elements that make a character of most interest to me.
So now I'm wrestling with a twisty, devious rogue of a hero who apparently has no intention of behaving the way I'd planned him to, and I have to say I'm equal parts frustrated and enjoying it. I do like the element of surprise, but it would certainly make the writing easier if I had a clearer idea of where we were going. All I can do, however, is to write forward and keep digging around in his psyche, asking questions like "What does he want — and why?" What does he want now? Why would he say that? What does that show me about his past? And so on.
I comfort myself with the reflection that part of the pleasure in reading is getting to know a character well, that it's more fun and interesting if we have to work at it than having them all neatly laid out for us, with each quirk and facet documented and explained. After all, trying to pin down a gorgeous, headstrong, uncontrollable hero is all part of the fun — isn't it?
So what about you — does any of this surprise you? And do you have any all-time favorite characters? Especially heroes? Let's share.