Unchain Your Characters

Rabbit - runAs writers, we sometimes unconsciously impose things on our characters.  This can begin before we even start a new writing project – when we’re daydreaming about who our characters are and who we want them to be.  So then we start writing and these pre-conceived ideas can stop characters from growing into who they truly are, or who they need to be for the story.

I’ve been thinking about this lately because I’ve just had such a revelation with a junior adventure novel I’m writing.  It’s a novel I’m about half way through, but had a break from after a recent overseas trip.  While I was away I was thinking about the main character, and realised my initial image of him was stifling who he really was.  Way back at the conception of the idea, I’d imagined him being reasonably cool, calm and collected.  A boy other young boys might look up to.  But he isn’t.  He emerged on paper as a bit uncertain and even a little anxious.  But like with many things, I only saw this once I’d removed myself from the project.  So, I gave myself a little time to mourn the fact that he wasn’t who I initially imagined.  Once I let go of this I soon became very fond of this new boy, and the story is now flowing better.

This kind of realisation often only happens after the first draft, as we only truly know our characters once we’ve been with them through to the story’s end.  I learnt more about this early on in the mentorship I’m doing with Kate: draft two is often about using this new knowledge to make sure the characters are speaking and acting and making decisions consistently from the beginning.  In other words, we often have to remove the parts where we imposed ourselves on the character and therefore allow them do what they would actually do (and not just what we want them to do).

So, let your characters run wild and free.  Let them be who they are, even if they surprise you, shock you, embarrass you or do things you never would.  It can be scary.  It can be liberating.  But it is always worth it.

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4 Responses to “Unchain Your Characters”


  1. 1 dale harcombe January 2, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    I’ve just started reading a book called Broken by Norwegian author Karin Fossom, (not a children’s novel) and her character comes to life. First he jumps the queue of chracters waiting to have their stories told and then he starts to take over and wants to dictate to her how his story should go. It’s good fun. I think all writers would find it interesting.

  2. 2 Madeline January 3, 2009 at 6:59 am

    How interesting that you mention this! I started a book a year or so ago that (at the time) I felt driven to write. I thought it would be so easy because I felt I knew who the characters should be. But after two chapters, I was pulling my hair out. I started the story again recently, revising and writing forward, and found to my surprise that my characters weren’t who I thought they were. I was, as you said, forcing my own preconceived notions on them. Hopefully next time my light bulb will turn on sooner! (And I wonder how Andy feels about two weeks in Europe.)

    Madeline

  3. 3 Katherine Battersby January 3, 2009 at 9:33 am

    Hi Dale – the book sounds fascinating. I’m always intrigued by characters that take over, both as a reader and as a writer. I will look it up.

    And Mady, isn’t that interesting? I’m glad to hear it’s flowing better now. I think in every new story there will always be things you don’t see until you have space from it. My mentor said there is a certain mistake she makes nearly every time she starts a new novel, and still kicks herself each time (and she has written over 20 books!)


  1. 1 Fattening up your Characters « the Well Read Rabbit || Katherine Battersby Trackback on November 20, 2009 at 4:17 pm

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About this Blog…

A blog of ramblings about the world of writing and illustrating for children, by an author / illustrator who might just have a thing for rabbits.

Katherine's picture books, 'Squish Rabbit' and 'Brave Squish Rabbit', are out with Viking (Penguin, US) and UQP (Australia). Please e-mail if you would like her to blog about something in particular.

All text & images  Katherine Battersby

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