[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!
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An archive of the Due South Workshop comm from LJ

October 2011

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