“Acceptable Stalking”

“First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him!”

The above quote is from Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451). As a seat-of-the-pants writer, I read the quote and thought, That’s exactly what I do!” I create a multi-dimensional protagonist, then stalk him or her through the pages of my manuscript. And, in nearly every case so far, that pesky main character does or says something that catches me by surprise.

There have been scenes that I’ve set up for the sole purpose of testing my protagonist’s metal. I mean I’ve uped the ante, dropped the hammer, and sharpened the knives. Why? Because I want to find out how my main character will react under extreme pressure. And I love to see him or her squirm. It makes me laugh like an evil scientist. I’m just wired that way.

And when my lead escapes, I chase him out the door…and the stalking continues. Man it’s fun!

But the key to a good character is I–the writer–have to know what he wants. And I have to stalk him and do everything I can to keep him from getting it easily…or at all. And then something will come out of his mouth, or she will do something, that makes me go, “Wow!”

What has one of your characters do that caught you by surprise?

NOTE: This friday’s post will be another “Top Ten” list. I think it will be “Top 10 signs your writers conference has picked the wrong hotel.”

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6 Comments

Filed under Christian Fiction, editing, Larry W. Timm, reading, Writing

6 responses to ““Acceptable Stalking”

  1. Interesting, I just went to a discussion of “Farenheit 451” this weekend. Great book.
    Without tipping my hand, my main character in my short story “Liberty” made an ethical decision I was not at all happy with, but needed to write in to make the story true-to-life.
    I’m discovering that being a writer is not the same thing as being a pastor.

    • Tony,
      Thanks for mentioning the way our characters often make ethical decisions we ourselves would never make. I understand that completely. But I supose that there are characters in the Bible–even in Hebrews 11’s “hall of Faith”–that acted in ways we’d never applaud or imitate. Keep writing, brother!

  2. I’m like you, Larry. Pantser who discovers who my characters are as I write about them. One of my MCs threw me for a doozy of a loop a while back though. He’s in two books as an MC. In the first one, his mother comes up on occasion, but he never so much as eludes to his father. It struck me as odd, but I didn’t need his father or anything about him for the story so I dismissed it. Then in the second book, he blindsided me with the fact that his father walked out on him and his mother when he was very young. He doesn’t like to talk about the man. In fact, he prefers to pretend he didn’t even exist. Wow.

  3. Jean Davis

    A few years ago I attended a writer’s conference, and one of the leaders gave us what I understand now was a paraphrase of Bradbury’s quote: Forget about outlining. Just engage your character, follow her and record what she does. I had been working on a young adult novel for more years than I’d like to tell you. I came home and engaged my main character in dialog, then followed her. Was I shocked. Before the end of the first chapter she led me somewhere I’d never dreamed of going with her, and her story just unfolded for me. I knew the character well because she had lived in my head and heart for years. Writing that book was a real adventure.

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