Characters set the Prose

“The character on the page determines the prose—its music, its rhythms, the range and limit of its vocabulary—yet, at the outset at least, I determine the character. It usually happens that the fictitious character, once released, acquires a life and will of his or her own, so the prose, too, acquires its own inexplicable fluidity. This is one of the reasons I write: to ‘hear’ a voice not quite my own, yet summoned forth by way of my own.”

Author Joyce Carol Oates, image care of Wikimedia Commons.

~Joyce Carol Oates

Have truer words been spoken? Characters guide the writing. We build them. We give them life. Yet once upon the page, the character moves to a tune its own. We let the characters guide our hands, more often than not – and while we may put them in situations that cause them stress, worry, even pride…their personalities decide how those very situations will play out.

Tones should appropriately shift, person to person. Hopes. Fears. Vocabulary. One soul is not the same as another, and neither will each behave the same as the other.

Take your time. Breathe. Become your character. How would they react? How do they think? Many people do it in the act of reading, picturing themselves escaping into another soul’s life. Well, writers, close your eyes and be able to do the same with your own creations. Don’t speak with your voice, your authority, for each – think how they would act.

The writer may be the creator, but the character is the forward momentum of any world, both for the readers and the writer himself. It is why outlines are only good to a point. We may have our “goals,” but our own characters may surprise us in the routes they take.

“People do not spring forth out of the blue, fully formed—they become themselves slowly, day by day, starting from babyhood. They are the result of both environment and heredity, and your fictional characters, in order to be believable, must be also.”
~Lois Duncan

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3 thoughts on “Characters set the Prose

  1. this is great chris..esp. the lines..People do not spring forth out of the blue, fully formed—they become themselves slowly… is great…love the idea of letting them develop, maybe change while the piece develops – somehow gripped me seriously this line.. maybe even to remember me that i have the right to change and develop as well..still… haha…see what you’ve done with your article…smiles

  2. You have a beautiful way of expressing yourself. I especially enjoyed this line, “The writer may be the creator, but the character is the forward momentum of any world, both for the readers and the writer himself.”

    A friend and I once had a discussion about art. Is it worth it to create, if no one reads or views what you’ve done? She gave the example of a child whose mother hangs a drawing on the fridge, and that drawing, though highlighted in the home, goes no farther. Then she said with writing, her words, if not shared, become lonely. That thought has always stayed with me.

    What I said to her was the art, in its creation, enriched its creator.

    And it sounds like you agree. Wonderful post.

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