I'm on a couple of mailing lists for writers, and it's interesting to me the number of people who really are looking for the magic Get Published Button. And I think I've found it: the problem is, like everything magic, it requires a certain amount of native talent and demands a price. The native talent may be negotiable: I have some (not as much as some of the 20-year-old-wunderkinds out there producing award-quality material, but I have some. And I have a passion to tell stories, which counts for something.) and I know more successful writers who I suspect have less native talent and do a lot more with it.
The price is not negotiable. The price is the rest of your life.
And that's where most writers fail, I think: because (especially when you're where I am, with a few manuscripts finished and making the rounds, and a few more clamoring to get out) it's so easy to get frustrated, give up, go do something productive with your time. So at a certain point, grim determination has to kick in. And then you know what you know. Which is that you'll either be a writer or you'll die trying.
I've quit writing three times so far. I recommend it, if you can--quitting, I mean.
For me, quitting didn't take, and I'm fifteen years in (not counting breaks as time spent in practice) and finally learning a craft that seduced me when I was six or seven and got my hands on a copy of Watership Down and didn't understand a word of it, but loved them all.
And then said, "I wanna do that."
So here I am with five and a half novels, some of them pretty good, a few dozen short stories, a few semipro sales and my two shiny pro credits... and it's time to get out and push.
What does this have to do with characters?
One of those writing lists hosts a semiannual discussion of how to make your characters more real, and I have to admit that I'm hopeless at this. I'm an enormously character-driven writer, and I think in general my characters are very good. (I seem to have a special knack for older female protags.) But tell you how I create them?
Damned if I know. They show up. Intellectually, I know every last one of them is a piece of me--and some of them are pieces of me that I'm not particularly proud of--but on an emotional level, they seem like people I know and, in many cases, don't particularly like. I know other writers talk about the difficulties they have in hurting their protags because they identify with them.
I don't seem to have an issue with that. Because, maybe, I don't see it as me hurting them, but as other characters, acting according to their nature, hurting them.
I do outline--usually on the level of having lists of plot developments, conflicts, and cool bits to come--but my characters constantly surprise me as well. For example, one of the characters in Scardown sort of roused himself this morning and said, "You realize, of course, that I am taking it upon myself to put the fear of me into Character Y today."
And I said, "That's not in the plan, but dude, run with it."
Because he would. I know, because I know, and I can even explain why. I can explain how this person came to be the person he is, and fuck the consequences, for once in his life.
Now, how he came to be developed as a character? Not a clue.
Borderline schizophrenia. It's the only explanation: a large part of my brain lives in a complex and consistent fantasy world. The redeeming characteristic is that I *know* it's a fantasy world.
I'm sure a competent shrink could figure out why my psyche spawned this little semiautonomous persona. But I'm not really sure I care: He's sorta neat to have around.