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Do characters have free will?

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Boota



Joined: 09 Apr 2004
Posts: 830
Location: Kokomo, Indiana
Do characters have free will?  Reply with quote  

The question came up on another board I visit occasionally. Do characters have free will? I was wondering what some of you might think about that. Do any of your characters demonstrate free will, or is it all just a writer pushing them around?
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Post Tue Nov 29, 2005 9:13 am   View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Vahlee



Joined: 04 Nov 2005
Posts: 3675
Location: Not-so-back to school
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I would say it depends on the writer and how much they get into their work. A writer may play god and bend the characters to follow a certain, pre-determined set of events, or a writer can start writing and the character develops his or herself as the author writes, giving him or her free will. This character development would tell the writer what the next step was, instead of an outline written by the author that tells the character what to do.
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Post Tue Nov 29, 2005 9:29 am   View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
knikkki



Joined: 13 Jun 2005
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Location: Davis, CA
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I think our characters surprise us and very often develop themselves. Is it free will? Maybe.
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Post Tue Nov 29, 2005 9:56 am   View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Boota



Joined: 09 Apr 2004
Posts: 830
Location: Kokomo, Indiana
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The two of you are on the same wavelength that I am. I understand the argument that there is no free will in a fictitious story because we as writers control the story. But I don't necessarily agree with it. At least not completely. My thinking is that a character who has become real to the author has to have an element of free will to dictate his/her behavior within the story. A character can often do things that go against what would be best for the easy flow of the story, but because of the established personality of said character, they simply wouldn't do anything else. I see that, ostensibly, as free will.
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Post Thu Dec 01, 2005 6:49 am   View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
philipw



Joined: 21 Nov 2005
Posts: 20
Free Will For All!  Reply with quote  

Throughout the course of writing my first manuscript, I ran into many occasions where characters did things I wasn't necessarily expecting them to do. Of course, I have ultimate control as to whether I allow them to do those things or not. It's also funny how events tend to pop up almost out of nowhere. Even though you may have a general outline of what's going to happen, in the telling of the story, unexpected things often occur.

I think Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions has a fun exploration of the author/character relationship.

Post Thu Dec 01, 2005 10:35 am   View user's profile Send private message
palmer



Joined: 30 Mar 2004
Posts: 1324
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Do you have free will?

Post Thu Dec 01, 2005 3:40 pm   View user's profile Send private message
Boota



Joined: 09 Apr 2004
Posts: 830
Location: Kokomo, Indiana
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palmer wrote:
Do you have free will?


Exactly. That is kind of the point I was making on the other board.

I wrote over there:

Do we, as humans, have free will? Or is there a god sitting at a word processor forcing us to fit into his/her plot?

Same difference with characters. When I write, I'm a god. Can I force my creations to do everything I say, regardless of what the personality they have demonstrated would dictate? Of course. But in giving them those personalities, and in turn free will, I should be able to let the character do what he or she would do naturally without any divine intervention. In my mind, divine intervention is cheating. If I have to force my character to be out of character to make my plot work, my story is wrong. I see it as a kind of collective story telling, except that all the participants are in my mind.

That said, there are characters who are merely plot devices. To be a successful god, the trick is not to make them look like that's all they are. I guess that would be the intersection of the two approaches. A realistic character who is really a plot device, but moves the plot through being a character. That doesn't mean that the plot device character can't have free will, he/she is just in the right place at the right time. I look at it as the times in real life when you meet someone who makes a big impact on you for a brief time and they move on. They have steered the plot of your life, but they have their own free will.

Either that or the god at the keyboard was looking at my life and said, "Hmmm... I need something here. Boota would never burn down that church on his own." LOL.
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Parts of that are out of context, but that's the general copy and paste idea. There was an additional discussion in the same thread about plot driven stories versus character driven stories.
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Post Thu Dec 01, 2005 5:02 pm   View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
palmer



Joined: 30 Mar 2004
Posts: 1324
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Boota wrote:
palmer wrote:
Do you have free will?


Exactly. That is kind of the point I was making on the other board.

I wrote over there:

Do we, as humans, have free will? Or is there a god sitting at a word processor forcing us to fit into his/her plot?


There is also the phenomenon of multiple personalities to consider...

Quote:
Same difference with characters. When I write, I'm a god. Can I force my creations to do everything I say, regardless of what the personality they have demonstrated would dictate? Of course...


I find that when I do that, I start to get "blocked" which is actually pretty cool in a way. When I slow way down or stop, I know that it's usually the equivalent of an alarm going off. Think of tha glorious alarm that goes off in submarine movies with the accompanying, "Dive, dive, dive!" Except for me, it's, "Wrong turn, Bozo!" I love it! Sort out the problem and the writing flows again. And the problem is usually plotting against character or vice versa.

Quote:
If I have to force my character to be out of character to make my plot work, my story is wrong.


Exactly. Plot = character, in the sense that plot is what characters do.

Quote:
That said, there are characters who are merely plot devices. To be a successful god, the trick is not to make them look like that's all they are. I guess that would be the intersection of the two approaches. A realistic character who is really a plot device, but moves the plot through being a character. That doesn't mean that the plot device character can't have free will, he/she is just in the right place at the right time. I look at it as the times in real life when you meet someone who makes a big impact on you for a brief time and they move on. They have steered the plot of your life, but they have their own free will.


If the is a discordance, you can either change what they do or who they are -- they must match. The shorter their page time, the easier it is.

Quote:
Parts of that are out of context, but that's the general copy and paste idea. There was an additional discussion in the same thread about plot driven stories versus character driven stories.


Old adage frome somewhere: serving and being served are folds in the same garment. (too lazy to look it up...someone will -- they always do) Doing a little cut and paste: character and plot are folds in the same garment.

Post Thu Dec 01, 2005 5:40 pm   View user's profile Send private message
Goudron



Joined: 03 Aug 2004
Posts: 2570
Location: near Cleveland OH
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I think this was covered in a Brendan Frasier half animated movie (Monkeybones?). If your characters have free will, you're either an omnipotent writer, or you have need of medication.
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Post Thu Dec 01, 2005 8:31 pm   View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
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