Dealing with Difficult Characters.

Irish_Firebrands_Cover_smallAs an “organic” or “pantser” writer, I was surprised by most of what happened in Irish Firebrands, especially every time that Medb McManus showed up. She’s the embodiment of some of the social controversies that are hotly contested in contemporary Ireland. As such, she was an extremely difficult character to write about. So you can imagine my astonishment the day that I realized she would be the central character of the sequel! (The rest of the related stories all go back in time.)

Frank Halligan was another challenging character. At first I didn’t like him, and I avoided finishing scenes he was in. When I finally faced up to asking why he behaved the way he did, the answer I got made me think, “Oh, wow, no wonder!” I still don’t like how he acted, but now I understand where he’s coming from, and that has helped me feel empathy for him. (One reader reported that she never liked him, and that whenever he popped up, she’d yell, “No! Go away, Frank!”)

Dillon Carroll also wound up carrying more and heavier baggage than I thought he had when I first met him. When I discovered what he had in his background, it was one of those, “Well, that was more than I wanted to know!” moments. (Ireland is not the Land of “Lucky Charms!”)

The way Paula Barron tries to manipulate situations, all I could do sometimes was just sigh and shake my head.

And Lana Pedersen … well … Lana is just what they call “a piece of work.” When I met her, I had no idea she had as many problems as she turned out to have.

Back when I was in nursing school, I enjoyed the two General Psych courses I had to take, but somehow I was prepared to hate Psych Nursing class and to fear going to psych clinicals, more than any of the other unpleasant things we had to do. But strangely enough, it turned out to be my favorite nursing school experience, even if I knew that I lacked “the right stuff” to go into Mental Health Nursing–although no matter where you practice nursing, you always use the psychology you learned. (And even more strange is that while I never encouraged my children to go into health care, that’s what three of them did, with the youngest even graduating from university with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology!)

My background in psychology probably helped me to cope with my fictional friends. I’ve read many accounts by frustrated writers who feared they’d lost control of their stories because of the way their characters began to act. In a character-driven tale, the misbehavior that’s difficult for a writer to accept is one of the things that brings the truth about the human condition into fiction. The key response for writers is to allow their characters the freedom to be human.

Now, as I spend more time researching and writing the prelude and the sequel to Irish Firebrands, I look back on the four years I spent with Lana, Dillon, Frank, Paula and Medb as daily companions and think, “It was rough–but we survived it together. Thank you for allowing my mind into your lives.”

And Thank You to our readers, who have so generously allowed my difficult characters to live in their own minds!

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Dealing with Difficult Characters.

  1. LOL! I see what you mean when you commented on my blog post about characters taking on their own life! 🙂

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