When I talk about independent characters, I don’t mean character traits and writing them just so. Granted, a strong character is a goal, always, but that is an entirely separate issue for me. When I talk about independent characters, mean those people who supposedly are figments of my imagination, completely made and controlled by me, but do what they want without my permission.
I once had a friend tell me to take control, that as writers, we are the gods of our universes and we determined what our characters thought and felt. I have to say, that philosophy never really worked for me. Something would appear in my head or on the page that I didn’t expect.
Right now, I’m working on a girl named Bunny. She has an interesting quirk. When she falls asleep with a man, she doesn’t cuddle, she wraps herself around him so tight she’s in danger of cutting off circulation. Interesting detail, but not one I actually thought of. She just did it.
Little quirks like this might seen innocent enough, but they tend to lead me on to bigger problems, like why is she smothering that man while they sleep? If I were to ask her (which I did, because those irritatingly independent types tend to know more then me) then she’d simply say she didn’t like sleeping alone. Not much of an answer.
This is where independent characters get interesting to me. I had to pick apart why Bunny was so set against sleeping alone that she kept her partner in a death-grip to keep him from escaping. That didn’t sound like someone who liked company. it sounded like she was scared.
Fear. That’s what opened everything up so it made sense. Bunny’d had a hard life with a lot of loss. most of the time she put it behind her, but there were times it all came back.
“You know that time, right before you fall asleep, when every noise seems louder, every bump in the night is bigger and every fear just kind of takes over? That’s what I don’t like. It’s there waiting for me, every night, and I can’t stand facing it on my own.”
When I’m writing and a character does something that doesn’t makes sense to me, I have to figure it out. There is usually something important in that quirk, something that shows me what really makes the character tick.