Why is my character unstable?

November 28, 2009 at 5:15 am (Character, Work In Progress) (, , , , , )

This is a sensible question really.  Knowing I’m in the middle of editing one book and getting it ready to be published and that I already have two wip’s that need a lot of polish, I’ve decided to not start drafting any other stories until after I move in January.  This means getting familiar again with a work in progress that I thought I had put aside for the time being.

There are a lot of problems with this work in progress but the one I’m trying to sort out first goes by the name Derrick.  Derrick is a ridiculous name and I know it isn’t right but that is his name for the time being and that is the least of this particular characters problems.

See, Derrick starts out in the very opening scene as a very impressive and strong, if emotionally immature, young man.  It is a great scene where he lords his power as a mage over a group of commoners (or non-magic users).  It really sets the tone for how the world works and all and all that particular scene works.

Jump a half-dozen chapters further a long.  Oh.  What is Derrick doing?  He is playing a childish prank on someone a lot stronger than him and then running away.  If you are wondering why the scene actually serves to show the other character’s explosive temper which is kind of an important part of the plot later on but Derrick’s actions do not make sense.  Not if he is the same Derrick who appeared back in chapter one.

Skip ahead again.  Now what is he doing?  He’s giving the best friend, morale boosting speech to someone who was about to collapse.  He is thoughtful and well-spoken and considerate.  No.  It can’t be the same character.

And so on.

Poor Derrick is facing an identity crisis.  More importantly, I am facing a crisis.  All of these scenes are important to the plot but the character makes no sense at all and his progression is random.  Actually, his progression is simple.  I need a character to do this to cause that.  Throw him in.  That seems to be how he has gone along and that does not work.  Yes, he is a minor character in the grand scheme of things but that is no excuse for not plotting out a logical character arc.  I’m either going to have to figure a way for Derrick to do all the things he needs to do, in a way that allows him to stay true to his character, or I’m going to have to find someone else to fill the spot in the scene, someone who makes sense.

Poor Derrick.



  1. Elizabeth Spann Craig said,

    Sounds like Derrick is falling down on the job! Good luck with bucking him up or introducing a character or event that causes him to change his character a bit.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      I think I’m going to need a new character. Derrick just does not work in all the roles he was assigned. Even so, he still needs major personality surgery.

  2. Stephen Tremp said,

    I like to introduce more characters. More people to have murdered somewhere down the line. Introduce, develop, form an afinity with the reader, then they are murdered by the bad guy. This helps form a villain you love to hate.

    Stephen Tremp

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      Actually, I probably could kill him off and bring a new character in. One of the criticisms I’ve identified with my story is very few people die despite the amount of danger they are supposedly in. Am I that attached to Derrick or to the nameless character I might introduce? Thanks for your comment.

  3. barbaraannwright said,

    Diagnose him with severe personality disorder? I think there are drugs for that. I think it would be fun to try and split him into three different people since he’s not that major of a character. Or if you wanted to make him more major, you could always put in some events that turn his personality around. He sounds mean in the first instance where he’s lording his power over commoners, but then he’s playing a childish prank.on someone better than him. That actually fits with the emotionally immature bit. He’s a badass in front of those with no power and a prankster/coward with those who have some. The morale-boosting speech is still a little out of place, but it could be worked in if the person he’s giving it to is his only friend instead of just his best, or the only person he actually cares about. Even to his only friends, said speeches could be rare. I think this could work if you only gave him the appearance of strength in the first part, but fleshed him out as an insecure, emotionally immature man whose mouth writes checks that his body can’t cash and who has few friends, but wants to keep those he does have. I hope this helps at least a little!

    Barbara Ann Wright

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      Thanks for this comment. You’re right in that if he were a major character he could work but because of his limited appearances he comes off too haphazard. I think my brain designed him the way you suggested. Strong in front of the weak and then insecure around those with power, but he doesn’t come off that way when reading it because he just isn’t developed enough for that.

  4. lbdiamond said,

    Oh, I have a similar problem with a WIP…this one’s tricky because I have several “main characters” and they all go through personality shifts. A young girl, innocent and naive, develops powers that allow her to kill with her thoughts. A middle aged man, heartless and focused on his scientific experiments, recognizes his wrongdoings and has a moral crisis. A woman, completely seduced by the man comes to love him anyway. None of it makes “sense” in that way, but, if I can work it right, it has the potential of being really cool. At least, that’s my hope.

    Best of luck with figuring out Derrick’s role. Maybe he does have multiple personality disorder. Maybe he has been taken over by good and bad spirits respectively. Maybe he’s actually three different characters–Derrick, Deborah, and Dwayne. Are dopplegangers an option? What about identical triplets? Oooh, the possibilities are endless.

  5. Sevvy said,

    He may have just evolved over the course of the story. Sometimes characters just have a will of their own and show the writer who they really are and how they might present themselves differently to different people.

    With your first two examples, have you considered that the way he is going to act towards his inferiors is much different than how he’ll act towards his superiors, and that just might be the difference coming out in that scene.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      He may act differently around different people but at the moment he is coming off as two completely different characters. Thanks for the comment.

  6. Margot Kinberg said,

    I completely empathize!! Right now, I’m in the middle of the first part of my WIP, and already I’m realizing that I’m going to have to add a character or change the “self” of one of my characters. You’re right; they’re not stable! I think that we write best, though, if we let our characters be who they are, and listen to them, rather than dictating to them…

  7. Corra McFeydon said,

    Yup, consistency is important in a character. If the reader can sense the author is bending the character’s personality to meet the plot demands, you’ve got a problem.

    Sometimes the author is just too close, and the character actually IS behaving understandably? As he faces tension within the story, it makes sense that Derrick would flesh out and change.

    Very best of luck to you with this writing dilemma!

  8. SaintAsh said,

    I agree with Stephen about introducing new characters, since it sounds like all his actions, schizo as they are, are important for the story. If you don’t want Derrick to be left out in the cold, you could always include him in the scene as a foil for the new, thoughtful character in the morale scene or some such thing. Give him a new bit part, so to speak.

    Good luck! 🙂

    • SaintAsh said,

      By the way, hopefully you don’t mind being added to my blogroll. If you do, let me know and I’ll take you off it.

      • Cassandra Jade said,

        Don’t mind, thanks a lot. Thanks for your advice as well. I’ve spent the weekend tracing out the character arcs for all of the cast and it turns out Derrick is probably the least of my worries in terms of being illogical. I guess that is why we call it a work in progress.

  9. Cam said,

    Poor Derrick (a fine name, by the way)…no wonder you’re having problems with him: you hate his name. I’ve found that if I think something about a character is ridiculous (name, physical characteristic, whatever), I don’t treat him as seriously as I do the other characters in the story.

    If those scenes are important, how would they change if Derrick’s character was consistent? If they’d be so different that they no longer serve their purpose, maybe they need to be rethought or cut. Painful, I know. I hang on to scenes I know have to be killed for too long.

    Just two cents from the unpublished newbie!

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      The scenes can’t be cut, Derrick can and probably will be, or at least minimised. Thanks for visiting and the comment.

  10. kitdunsmore said,

    I like the title of your post: my best guess is because you don’t really know him yet. I’m unfortunately facing that issue myself. One of the two people who are the backbone of the book I’m working on is currently a cipher. I’ve got to get a handle on him and fast, or I won’t be able to do anything with this mess. Right now, I’m thinking about raiding my past and building him from someone, or several someones, I have known. Don’t know if I can pull that off or not, but pulling him out of thin air isn’t working for me.

    Good luck getting him under control.

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