Wednesday, October 7, 2009

No, You Can't Be A Character In My Book

People ask me this all the time. "Will you write me into one of your books?"

The answer is no.

Hey, don't look at me like that. First of all, you don't know what you're asking. You wouldn't like it. And secondly, I'm just not that into you. And thirdly, you're just too damn normal.

I hear you protesting already, but hear me out.

What people are asking when they ask to be in one of my books is really this: May I live with you? Can I move in with you for the next four to eight months and sit next to you every single day and drink out of your tea mug and watch you sleep? Because that's what a character does. As an author, I have to look at every single side of them and imagine exactly how they'd react to any given situation and make up reasons for why they act the way they do, and then brainstorm and fantasize about upcoming scenes in the book for pretty much every waking moment until the book is not only written but revised and then edited by my editor. And then live with the consequences of that cohabitation in the form of one million reviews analyzing every bowel movement said character had.

Is that what you really want from me? Is it?

Which brings me to point two. I'm just not that into you. Pretty much unless you're my husband or my immediate family or handful of best friends, I will hate you before that time is up. Because unless I love you like a brother, that sort of cozy space sharing and observing of your personal habits will drive me crazy. It's like dating, but dating when, through intense and undying scrutiny, you know absolutely everything about your significant other's backstory, embarrassing personal habits, crushing secret motivations, and hopes, dreams, and fears.

Basically it's like dating Edward Cullen.

Also, that aside, do you really want me portraying you exactly as I see you, and inventing dysfunctional backstory to explain how you got that way?

Okay, thirdly. You're too normal.

I hear you shouting that this is not true, you're not normal, you have a crazy Star Wars obsession and your cut your hair with a pair of safety scissors and you have named your toaster Monica and you only sleep on your left side on days of the week with E in them.

I get it. You're quirky.

But you're still normal. Now, stop wailing about. It's okay to be normal. Many people are. Most people are. But they would also all make bad characters. Here's the thing about characters: they are larger than life. They're exaggerations. Subtle caricatures -- sometimes not so subtle, actually -- even in the most realistic of novels. Because while gray areas work wonderfully in real life and pretty much keep us all from killing each other, in a novel, there's not much room for them. You want to be 100% certain how a character is going to react to something every time, and that means that they have to be overblown versions of real people. Stoic people become incredibly stoic. Obsessive people become hilariously obsessive. Bitchy people become the most giant bitches the world has ever seen this side of Great Dane factories. I mean, kennels.

In real life, even stoic people are not always stoic. In fact, they may be only stoic in the face of really exceptional situations, and whiners the rest of the time. Obsessive people may really only be obsessive about their kitchen being neat, and the rest of the house can look like crap. Bitchy people may really only become horrid fiends when standing in line at the DMV and otherwise be delicate flowers unable to take constructive criticism. That's cool. Functional. But bad characterization.

Sure, characters can act out of, well, character. But you bet your biffy there had better be a darn good reason and it better not happen again, buster. When that stoic character finally breaks down? Ooooh, that's when you got the reader begging for more. But only if they've been stoic every other second of the book. When the bitchy character is finally nice? What a moment . . . but only if they've been a raving terror for the rest of the book.

Are you that bitchy?

I thought not.

So, I'm sorry, I'd love to help you out, but you just can't be a character in my book.

Also, your name's boring. Sorry.


prettyfangirl said...

I better scratch this request off my "Things to ask Maggie Stiefvater" list...

WildIrishRose33 said...

:-) Hilarious. You are incredibly funny.

That being said...

"Will you write me into one of your books?"

Just kidding. ;-)

ElegantSnobbery said...

Haha, well that's a relief that you aren't about to add me to your cast of characters. I'd probably go, "Ugh, I hate that girl... so annoying" and then, as I hit the last page think, "heeeeyyyyy, wait a minute!" and be horribly embarrassed at how lame I read on paper.

But seriously, people ask you that?

Donna Gambale said...

Awesome post. The paragraph of quirks is too funny.
People constantly want to be in my novel, and though I've borrowed bits of everyone I know, no one is even halfway there -- for exactly the reasons you mentioned. (They'd seriously hate me.) And after they ask about themselves, they ask "is Steve in it?" (we've been dating for five years) and I'm like "no!" and they ask "why not?" and I always say -- "I'd get sick of him!"
No one gets it. Thank you for getting it.

prettyfangirl said...

Hey Maggie. This is me entering the Ballad contest. Yes, I was as excited as I looked. Also, is it wrong to ask to not be in the running for the Grand Prize?

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Hahaha -- people ask this and much worse!

And yep, fangirl, you're entered -- thanks! -- and if you get drawn for the grand prize, I'll pick one of the other prizes for you.

BookChic said...

My name isn't boring. :) I can say this because you've used it in your books and that same character is now a MC in Ballad so it can't be that boring.

What is also pretty funny is that James' roommate is named Paul. My roomie calls me Paul because she thinks I look more like a Paul than a James. When you read that part at the signing, that made me giggle. So you put two characters living in one room and give them my two names (Paul is not part of my legal name though), lol.

In conclusion, this must mean that you like me A LOT and can't stop thinking about me so you have to write my name into your books. :P

Maggie Stiefvater said...

CLEARLY, James, you have discovered my sordid secret.

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