Characters Say No When They Mean Yes.

If you’re a writer, then most likely you’ve heard the piece of advice saying something along the lines of: “Write what you know.”

When I first heard this Writerly Law, I resisted big time. Mostly because I translated that as write only subjects that related to your everyday life. I wanted to write about magic, and fight scenes of horse-riding, sword wielding knights against leathery, flame breathing dragons. Unfortunately, I’ve never even seen a real sword in real life, never rode a horse and I doubt dragons really exist today.

Luckily, I’ve come to realize that’s not what that means at all! And even if it did, it wouldn’t be too hard to research those things online or at a library, which is probably something a writer should do with anything they’re writing that they don’t know in intimate detail.

The saying means that you should, at least in my opinion, write what you observe.

So, where am I going with this?

I’m noticing something about my brother, something I’ve observed. A lot of times, he says one thing, but does another. I know, this is like obvious human behavior.

He says he’s not hungry. But if I cook and set the plate full of food in front of him, he will eat it and a second helping.

I know it shouldn’t be much of a surprise, but I’m socially retarded like that at times.

But the point is, characters should act the same way.

They should say something and mean something else. They shouldn’t know what they want on a conscious level, even if everything they do is obviously pointing to the specific thing they desire more than anything, even if they don’t know it.

I’m writing about this today because…I’m noticing my characters lack this. Or at least, in my novel.

They’re too vocal on what they want and they already know exactly what it is. There’s no deep, unsettling, unpleasant feeling you have when you don’t know what you want or what to do.

I suppose that is the difference, among other things, between a character created by a master and a newbie.

It is my personal definition that the best, most amazing stories are ones where you take something that is completely outside our realm of reality and make it seem as real as possible, the more fantastic the idea is and the realer it feels, the more amazing it is.

To do this you take the things of real life and integrate it into your story, even if it’s about fairies and unicorns.

Okay, I want real examples! Well more like need them cause I’m still learning and learning by example is the easiest way to learn.

Writers! I would be much honored if you would provide your own examples from your very own writing of either something that happened to your character or what your character did that contradicts what he or she has said and/or demonstrates some other human quality.

Or, if you’re a non-writer, what would you like to see more of in regards to characters in fiction?


4 thoughts on “Characters Say No When They Mean Yes.

Add yours

  1. Hmm….

    Well there are a number of instances in my current WIP that I could refer to, but I think I will choose one or two that requires the least amount of context.

    Abby is my MC
    Connor – Best friend/secret love interest of Abby
    Carmen – Connor’s fiance`
    Mr. A – Carmen’s Dad
    Dan Marsh – Abby’s Dad
    Double J – Connor’s long time friend

    They were in the process of debating what time would be best to meet up at the Bluewater Marina to depart when Connor—explaining that wind and weather conditions would be ideal come three or four in the morning—was interrupted mid-sentence by an energetic tune sounding from under the table.
    The sound came from a cell phone.
    Mr. A’s to be exact.
    Abby only need to hear a few seconds of the Carmen Habanera aria ringtone to know his daughter was the caller.
    “My apologies, everyone. Give me just a moment,” he said before pulling the cell out of his pocket and pushing the on screen button to answer the call. “Hola, mija.”
    A few more seconds passed, Mr. A listening with eyebrows furrowed, then he said something else in rapid Spanish and reached across the table to pass the phone to Connor.
    “Apparently she has been trying to get ahead of you for the past half an hour.”
    Connor cursed under his breath, looking thrown aback as he took the phone from Mr. A. “Sorry about that, hon. My phone must have died.” Though Carmen spoke loud enough for Abby to hear the echo of her response from across the table, he reached up to block out the restaurant noise with his forefinger when he saw Abby watching him. “Yeah, I’m still out with everyone, but I should be home by ten I think. Eleven-thirty at the latest. I was going to help Abby finish loading some stuff onto the boat after—oh… Okay, well I guess I could do that.”
    He went silent to listen some more, then a minute or so later…
    “Alright then. I’ll be there as soon as I can. See ya.”
    Connor ended the call with a sigh and handed the phone back to Mr. A.
    “Is everything okay?” Mr. A asked.
    “Yeah… it’s fine. She just wanted to know if I could leave early tonight.” Connor cleared his throat, looking ten percent irritated and ninety percent confused. “Said she had a surprise for me or something like that.”
    Mr. A, on the other hand, flashed a knowing smile. Already aware of the surprise Carmen intended for Connor, perhaps? Thankfully, he didn’t allow room for anyone to ask what the surprise could be. Abby found the temptation hard enough to resist as it was. Jealousy, hot and painful, stabbed at her heart as her imagination began trying to fill in the blanks. Particularly hard once Mr. A said:
    “Ah, I see. You will be staying at her apartment tonight, I take it?”
    “Yeah, I suppose so. And she wants me to leave asap, so…”
    Double J made an indignant sound at the back of his throat. “What? You can’t just leave like that. We haven’t even finished the rest of our show yet! That’s just bad form, man!”
    Dan Marsh didn’t say anything, just started scrutinizing Connor heavily as he leaned back in his chair.
    “Sorry, guys. Really hate to cut and run like this, but—”
    “When your lady beckons…”
    The words escaped Abby’s lips before she had a chance to stifle them or filter out the underlying bitterness in her tone, but was all under her breath and she managed a smile when she looked up to meet Connor’s gaze.
    He was now casting uncertain glances between Abby, Dan and Mr. A.

    1. No problem. Thanks for sharing!

      The tension here is interesting. I feel sorry for Connor to be stuck in a situation like that.

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