I have done a post about this before, I realise, but I think it’s worth posting about again since I know a little bit more about it than I did before. And also I have finally finished the major rewrite of my next potential sub and self awareness was a particular bugbear in that one, as it has been in all my mss to be honest.
You see, when I was a little baby writer, I used to get really annoyed with characters that seemed wholly blind to their problems. So my characters would always know what their problems were. Most of the time, they knew and still acted like idiots (my heroes here) because they were so tortured and well, just generally angsty. This was before I knew about conflict, about action, about pace, about anything really! I know a lot more about that stuff now so it came as a bit of a surprise to me that, as a big grown-up writer, I was still making my characters too self aware.
So, what is all this self awareness stuff? It’s being aware of your feelings and the reasons for them basically. For example, my hero wants to succeed in his business. It’s his goal. If pushed, he might admit that his drive to succeed is based on leaving behind a troubled youth. But what he wouldn’t admit to is that his drive to succeed is based on a fear that he’s really no good because his father walked out on him when he was young. He wouldn’t admit to it because he doesn’t actually know that at the beginning of the book. Unless you’re me of course, who did actually make him know that in the first chapter! The problem with this is that if they know their fears right at the beginning there wouldn’t be any sense of discovery about the character. Plus the fact that if they know their problems right at the beginning, why don’t they do something about them right then and there? And you also lose any emotional impact because there is no slow revelation or sudden insight by the character about their behaviour.
Anyway, the upshot of this is that I have to learn to pull back on the awareness. I found myself getting into trouble with this rewrite because of that and it meant because I had made my hero too self aware too early, I had to give him another problem so he would still grow and change. Which meant I complicated the conflict. Remember the KISS principle? Keep It Simple Stupid.
Now, all this might sound as though I’m making my characters do stuff instead of being guided by them. That may be true but I don’t think I’m doing it this time. If I think about it, my character is an alpha male who wants to prove himself. Admitting he’s scared of not being good enough would be something he would never admit to. So making him aware of this fear too early on IS making him do something he doesn’t want to do.
All this stuff about self awareness is making me appreciate the layers of the onion metaphor that Kate Walker talks about. I knew what she meant, but I never really saw it in my own work until now.
So, what does everyone else think about this? Are your characters too self aware like mine? Or are they appropriately dense? 🙂