[identity profile] brynnmck.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] ds_workshop
Hi! This is my first time, so please forgive any lack of expertise/finesse. ;)

I'm here to blather at you regarding the following question: "How do you manage to keep the guys in character when they keep wanting to develop personalities of their own?" (I'm going to focus primarily on the characters' behavior here, since the lovely [livejournal.com profile] sageness already covered the character voice side of things quite well.)

This is kind of a difficult question to answer, since there is no real concrete "This Is Character X" checklist out there; the unique beast of fic means we're all writing in the same world, but none of us created it, and therefore we all see it a little bit differently. (I mean, think about this: effectively, we're writing a massive, ever-changing collaboration with hundreds of different authors. It's a miracle we manage to get to the same place at all! GO US. \o/) So there's a fair amount of room for interpretation going on before we even sit down at the computer or the notebook. Which can be a good thing; there are many times when I've read a fic where I think the voices or off or the characters aren't quite how I see them, but there is a line or a moment or an overall feeling that's just so dead-on perfect it goes right to my heart and makes me willing to be flexible about the rest. Finding an author who portrays the characters exactly as I see them, note for note, reaction for reaction, is pretty rare (though awesome for me when it happens), so we've all got a little bit of wiggle room.

That said, though, if I'm reading along and I get to a passage that involves Fraser, say, kicking a puppy, it's probably going to make me scratch my head. Or laugh and close the tab. Or both. So there are some basic objective characteristics that make these characters who they are, and sometimes it's easy to lose those in the ebb and flow of the writing process, so here are a few things I use to keep myself honest when it comes to characterization.


1. Check the canon

One of the first questions that springs to mind for me is: which version of "in character" are you talking about? Fanon is a very strong influence in dS fandom, in my observation (both as a reader and a writer), which isn't surprising, considering how many people approach the fandom through the fic first, and the fact that the amount of fan-produced material absolutely dwarfs the amount of canon at this point. And different readers and writers are going to place different amounts of value on having a fic that's canonically consistent (when it comes to character, at least—plot is a whole other side of the equation).

But if you're aiming for some level of consistency with other people's characterizations (not to mention recognition in your audience), I'm still going to say that canon is the best resource—it's the greatest common denominator, the font of all our joy and angst and porn. It allows us to see the characters react to a wide variety of situations, many of which are easily relatable to fic. For example: Fraser angry doesn't look like Vecchio angry doesn't look like Kowalski angry. Kowalski angry is all yelling and waving arms and motion; Vecchio gets calmer, quieter, and threatens with a smile; Fraser doesn't get truly angry often, but when he does, it is fucking terrifying, low voice and barely leashed fury, like he knows ten ways to kill you with his pinky finger and only his iron control is protecting you (please see: boot-to-the-chest in "Bird In the Hand"). Also, Fraser doesn't tend to get angry on his own behalf very often (though he does get incredibly sulky, which is a useful thing to note, too), but if you're threatening someone he loves or someone under his protection, look out.

Those are the kinds of things I look for when I'm trying to capture a character. For me, half the fun of fic is that detective work; we obsess over the minute details of these characters' lives anyway—the current "canon counts" movement (which is awesome) is evidence of that—so we are the perfect people to rise to this challenge! Chances are, you're not going to be putting any of your characters in a situation that's completely unrelated to anything that's ever happened to them in canon (unless you're writing minor characters, in which case the field is more open anyway). Going back periodically and checking the source, getting a little distance by seeing the characters on your screen instead of inside your own head, can be a great way to keep yourself on track.

Also, another thing that I've noticed with myself, given the incestuousness of our beloved Canada fandom: sometimes the same actor's roles blend together in my head and muddy a character. For me, there's just enough overlap between Billy Tallent and Kowalski that I occasionally find myself giving Kowalski Billy's reactions/speech patterns. And maybe other people can't quite keep Geoffrey Tennant out of their Fraser characterization. Again, watching an episode or two can sharpen your focus and help keep all those multiple personalities in their proper places.

2. Check your concept

It also strikes me that if you're having trouble keeping your characters in character, possibly there's something that's not working in the story as a whole. There are lots of reasons I can see for this: maybe you're fudging things a bit for the sake of a joke or a kink (which is kind of a risky choice, so my feeling is that it had better be a really funny joke or a really hot kink), maybe you've got some of your own wish-fulfillment going on (which, again, I have been there, but it is dangerous, as that sort of thing tends to be very obvious from the outside), maybe you're not clear on where the story is going, maybe you just really really want to explore what it would look like if Fraser were the kind of guy who kicked puppies. So this is the time to get out your magnifying glass again, and examine your own work just as carefully as you examine the canon. Figuring out what's at the root of your characterization issues is the first step—why do you want the characters to act this way? How important is it that they do? Is their behavior being dictated by the story or by something external/unnecessary to the story?

After you've done that, you have three choices (that I can see): you can re-think the story or the situation, push it back into shape around the characters. You can give a good reason for the changes in the characters—tragedy or time or a thunderbolt from the sky, or go to an AU that will fit what you're trying to do. (Of course, that will mean more extensive character development so you can bring the reader along to where you are, but it's definitely do-able, and can be really fun and fascinating.) Or you can accept the fact that the characters in the universe of your story may not jibe with other people's concept of those characters, make sure you keep them internally consistent, and forge ahead. (Again, I think that last one is a little risky—most of us are, after all, here to read fic about characters we recognize, and so straying dramatically from that means your story has to be that much better to pull it off.)

It's also possible that you'll realize you're just not writing a dS story at all, in which case you should go write your idea as originalfic, get it published, and send me a cut of the proceeds, OK? *g*

3. Check with someone else

As with so many things, the services of a good beta can be invaluable here. If you don't realize that your characters have strayed, you're not going to be able to fix it. A good slap upside the head reality check outside opinion from someone with a good eye for character might be your best resource to make sure your guys are our guys, and not just some random guys. Even if those random guys are entertaining.


So those are my thoughts.* What works for you? How do you tell when your characters are wandering away from you? How have you fixed it? What signs do you keep an eye out for? What do you do when the canon isn't consistent (besides cry a little on the inside)? Please school me in the comments!




*I would also like to congratulate myself on getting through this entire essay without ONCE exhorting anyone to "check yourself before you wreck yourself." I assure you, this has not been easy, but I have DONE IT for the benefit of EVERYONE. You're welcome!

Date: 2007-07-16 09:56 am (UTC)
sage: Still of Natasha Romanova from Iron Man 2 (Default)
From: [personal profile] sage
This is fabulous. I will come back with something more coherent when my brain starts cooperating. :D

Date: 2007-07-17 12:19 am (UTC)
sage: Still of Natasha Romanova from Iron Man 2 (flipflops by tx_tart)
From: [personal profile] sage
Back! Now with 80% less headache! :P

Again, this was fantastic! I'm nodding and nodding all through this. And omg, what you say about RayK vs. Billy Tallent is so true. Especially when it comes to the use of the word "buddies". RayK uses "buddy" a couple of times, but Billy and "That's not buddies" go hand-in-hand. I guess it's such an important part of HCL that it throws me out of DS fic when I see the word used more than once.

And god, inconsistent canon makes me SO SAD. Like, Stella in Strange Bedfellows rocks my socks. We see her home. We see her being conflicted and smart and stupid and annoyed with good reason. We see all this wonderful history that she has with RayK and her struggle to be friends with her ex-husband. I love THIS Stella. I don't love other appearances, where she's bitchy/cruel without cause. So, in my head, Strange Bedfellows is the real (complicated, multi-layered) Stella. And when she's unaccountably bitchy, I figure she's stressed out, having a rotten day, is swamped with cases, has cramps, Ray's a convenient and habitual target who she can unload on and trust not to take it too personally (as one does with someone one has known for 2/3+ of one's life).

But this is also because I was in DC Comics fandom before DS, and in comics fandom, you HAVE to pick and choose your canon (because periodic retcons make "canon" fluid).

Date: 2007-07-16 02:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] green-grrl.livejournal.com
Again, watching an episode or two can sharpen your focus and help keep all those multiple personalities in their proper places.

Yes! Best advice ever. In other fandoms, I have go-to episodes for when I'm trying to re-immerse myself in a character's voice. I'm still working on that in Due South.

*I would also like to congratulate myself on getting through this entire essay without ONCE exhorting anyone to "check yourself before you wreck yourself." I assure you, this has not been easy, but I have DONE IT for the benefit of EVERYONE. You're welcome!

Yes, I see how you did that. *snicker*

Date: 2007-07-18 04:40 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] green-grrl.livejournal.com
Oh, twist my arm. ;-)

Date: 2007-07-16 02:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dragonflymuse.livejournal.com
Thank you for tackling this topic! I spend more time angsting about what the characters would do vs what I want them to do that the actual telling of a story (or lack of story, if PWP is attempted) gets lost.

Since my wonderful Beta isn't in the dS fandom, I rely on friends (hugs [livejournal.com profile] primroseburrows) to proof the betaed draft and let me know where voice or characterization falters.

The grey area for me around keeping the boys in character is with future fic or pre-series fic. What little information we get from canon about their past lives (or what we extrapolate from canon to use as fodder for future fic character growth) has to be carefully pondered and processed: yes, I agree that Fraser is not a puppy-kicker, but is there anything from canon that could be used as a precursor for him becoming one? At the time, I am sure his stated inability to help the mugging victim in VS II was seen, initially as very OOC for Fraser; it is only after careful consideration of his past and 'current' relationship with Victoria that her destruction of Fraser sense of self and responsibility would lead him to that point of helplessness, where he can't save himself, nor help the victim.
(Not that I am encouraging a story where we see Fraser having become a puppy-kicker, but I've read a fair amount of fic where Fraser has done things that I personally couldn't see him doing/succumbing to based on canon and analysis of text/subtext).

A very helpful essay!

Date: 2007-07-16 04:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] leonandra.livejournal.com
I'm still going to say that canon is the best resource

That is so true! I first saw Due South on TV, then stumbled upon fanfic while watching it again. Then, for about a year, I mainly read fics. Recently, I started watching the episodes again and was very surprised to discover that the Fraser in my head was nothing like the one on screen. The Fraser of the pilot didn't even look like "my" Fraser. Pilot!Fraser is so young, ernest, clueless and pretty that it broke my heart.

I realized that even in canon Fraser undergoes a transformation. The Fraser of series 3 and 4 is not the one of series 1 or the pilot, neither in looks nor in characterisation.

I agree that Fraser wouldn't kick a puppy just because it's there. On the other hand, I can see series4!Fraser do it given a good reason, something I can't see pilot!Fraser do no matter what. Some of this is based on his behaviour in Odds. Lady Shoes toyed with him during the whole episode. In the end he toys with her when he prevents her from falling from the ledge but switches hands pretending for a second to let her fall. I don’t think either pilot!Fraser or early series1!Fraser would have done that. They might be not as innocent as they make us believe they are, but I doubt they would have pulled a bluff like that.

Another example I can think of is the difference in canon characterisation between Fraser in Odds and Pizzas and Promises. In Odds Fraser goes kind of undercover as a professional poker player and although he is still Fraser, he seems fairly comfortable and confident. On the other hand, in PaP Fraser struggles to go undercover as a car salesman and is remarkably bad at it. Now try to put PaP!Fraser in Odds as a poker player. See what I mean?

Sorry to ramble on like that. I guess my point is that checking canon for characterisation is a very good idea, but it also depends on which part of canon you look at.

It also seems that I made Fraser a puppy kicker given a good enough reason. *sigh*

Date: 2007-07-16 07:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nos4a2no9.livejournal.com
This is such a helpful and thought-provoking essay! I have bookmarked for reference while I'm writing my AU of DOOM. Thank you for the reminders to a) check canon and b) check your concept - I've read quite a few stories that could have been brilliant if only the concept had been silghtly tweaked to better reflect the due South characters.

I have more thinky-thoughts but I'm at work, so I'll be back to comment in more detail later!

Date: 2007-07-16 09:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] brigantine.livejournal.com
Bless you! This is so timely for me!

I had hoped to make my first foray into DS fanfic by answering the Dancing challenge over in [livejournal.com profile] ds_flashfiction, but it's not working out, and after reading this I feel better about letting it go. Not that I won't write the story out eventually, but meeting the challenge just isn't going to happen. I'm blaming Fraser. Ray K chatters away in my head just fine. Hell, I can hardly shut him up, but Fraser? Aaargh!

There's another story that's been mulling in my brain, and after reading this post I realize that I'll be better off doing that one first. It's quiet and thinky and from Fraser's POV, so hopefully I'll have a chance to get to know him, figure out how to handle him better.

Coincidentally, I was just thinking the other day about what [livejournal.com profile] leonandra brought up: Fraser in Seasons 3 & 4 is certainly not the Fraser of 1 & 2. Most interesting!

AND, he talks to his father in a vastly different manner than he does to everybody else - except for Ray. He talks to Ray Kowalski *almost* like he's family. He's a complex fellow, our Mountie. sigh. An awful lot of trouble, really. ;)

Date: 2007-07-18 04:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] brigantine.livejournal.com
Yep, for me what they'd do and what they'd say are pretty much knotted up. I need to understand his brain before I can open a character's mouth. Where is he coming from, and where does he think he's going?

And Vecchio - in spite of my OTP being F/K, I have to love the guy. He's got that lovely wry, sense of humor. Kinda sardonic. Plus, back when I was a kid one of my best friends was an Italian girl from New York. Lived in a small house with about a hundred relatives. OMG the volume level in that house - but you always knew exactly where you stood with them.

Fraser on the other hand, he keeps things to himself, then he's vexed when you don't get it. I have a hard time writing that, because by nature I'm more like the Rays, so Fraser's behavior often makes no sense to me at first, and my train of thought kind of grinds to a halt while I disassemble his motivation. Grrr! Love the Mountie, but I totally get why Kowalski sometimes wants to pop the guy.

Sorry, I'm babbling... ack. Due South is a whole new field of exploration for me, and I get sort of over-excited discussing it. Heh.

Date: 2007-07-18 04:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] green-grrl.livejournal.com
Brig! Can I trade you? Fraser comes way, way to easily, so of course my first DS story is RayK. *headdesk*

Date: 2007-07-18 04:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] brigantine.livejournal.com
Heh heh. I think the way my brain works is more like Vecchio's, but I get Kowalski pretty well probably 'cause my mom is from Detroit, and though she's been in CA for many years, we've still got family back there. So, the voice comes through pretty easily, and his motivations are fairly open for me.

As the character is written he's this odd combination of THISCLOSETOPANICKING and absolute bravery once he gets past that. Complains *constantly* but you notice he doesn't give up. Threatens to. Does not. It's just his way of working things out out loud, whereas Fraser does it all internally.

Watched MotB last night, and that early scene nearly broke my heart. After he's popped Fraser everything about Ray's body language, everything in his face is practically screaming, "Talk to me talk to me, I need you to talk to me!" but instead Fraser just turns and walks away, 'cause he's not *listening.* And then *I* wanted to pop him, 'cause I can't understand how he can not see that Ray's body is shouting at him to stay. (g'head, watch Ray in that pullback shot, when Fraser's walking away, there's this little, helpless gesture that just... *weeps*)

See? Ray I get. Fraser, not so much. *joins you in the headdesk*

Date: 2007-07-18 10:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] green-grrl.livejournal.com
It's not that I don't get Ray -- I totally do. He's so damned expressive, definitely! It's just that my mother instilled in me a love of multisyllabic words, so when I put fingers to keyboard, Fraser-ish vocabulary come out. Naturally. Any time I'm writing! (And I was later adopted into an Italian family -- so, oh yes, I get RayV, too!) I'm just having to go back through my Ray POV and pull out the compound sentences, convoluted phraseology, the preference for long words, etc.

Date: 2007-07-17 08:37 pm (UTC)
genarti: Knees-down view of woman on tiptoe next to bookshelves (ink on the page)
From: [personal profile] genarti
I'm not actually in dS fandom -- I keep meaning to see the show, but have yet to get my hands on it -- but I wandered over here from [livejournal.com profile] meta_fandom. And may I say, this is very well stated just as a general guide.

I absolutely agree that viewing an episode or two, or rereading a section of the book(s), is a good way to get the character's voice back in your head. (For me, it's especially useful if canon's long enough that at least some of that review is of a section I don't know well enough to quote backwards and forwards and in my sleep. Certainly there are other benefits to knowing canon that well, but if it's a key section I review a lot, it can get to the point where the actual words kind of slip past my notice into "Yeah, yeah, I know all this" skimming. Supplementing it if possible with a slightly more obscure one helps highlight the characters' speech patterns better, and might remind me of trivia I'd half-forgotten.)

For inconsistent canon... cry a little on the inside. *grin* Um, and then just make sure I can justify what I'm doing with at least something in canon, after I've done my darnedest to reconcile the whole thing. Ideally, either what's "current" at the point the story's set, or what seems to hold true the majority of the time.

Setting something aside for a while before rereading it is useful too, although not always possible given fandom's tendency towards gift-fics and short-term challenges and such.

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