In my mind, there are four different kinds of authors in relation to their characters. There is no right or wrong here, merely different motivations for the stories we write, as well as different personalities at play as we interact with our characters. Which kind of author are you? Let me know in the comments!
The Plastic Surgeon
This kind of author is up on trends and high on entertainment value. They’re not writing to get across a moral. They’re not interested in dissecting their characters’ hearts and making them suffer. They’re up on all the latest fads and can write to market easily. They’re business-people, and they write to put bread on the table. When vampires are in, they’re there. When angels are in, they’ve switched. They can assess the latest “beauty trends” and know how to stick their clients’ faces (their characters) up on a screen, pick out the imperfections, and make them look like the hot celebrity of the year. Then they send the newly sparkling client on their way and write the next novel.
New York Times bestselling author Joanna Penn: “I’ll look at some of the trends that I think will be important for authors in 2019 and then outline my own creative goals. I hope you will add your goals in the comments so we can keep each other accountable as the year progresses.”
Bestselling author – with 325 million copies sold – author James Patterson: “My new motto is: ‘Stories at the speed of life.’ People want things faster. They want to binge. These books are like reading movies. It may be a factory, but it’s a hand-tooled factory. I want my obituary to begin, ‘He was slowing down at 101, and had only finished four novels that year.'”
This author isn’t as clinical as the plastic surgeon. They’re up on trends and key lingo for their business, but they aren’t just looking to mimic the latest pretty face. They want to add some deeper issues, and address bigger concerns in their clients (characters). They like to dig a little deeper and add a little heart to their novels. But at the end of the day, they still need to make money on their therapy sessions, and they go home at night to their own families. 8 or 12 weeks and the client is still sent on their way, hopefully with a growing and changing heart or attitude.
Sara Nash, PhD: “I am a psychotherapist, and I am a writer who loves reading about and reflecting on the therapeutic endeavor. Psychotherapy — often more art than science — is about being human, from which no amount of professional experience exempts me.”
Edgar Award-winning, issue-driven, psychological author Susan Vaught: “I hope my books make people think and make them talk. Nothing should be construed as medical or psychiatric/ psychological advice or a substitute for mental health treatment. It’s all just my take on the world around me, and a way to talk to my readers and friends.”
The Foster Parent
This type of author really isn’t interested as in business or what they can get back from the world. They’re not writing to market, and they’re doing it out of a ministry mindset. Their characters have their own lives and are portrayed as realistically relatable as possible. They are brought into the home to sit at the author’s table, eat their food, are prayed over, nurtured, and counseled. The process is tough and fraught with difficulty and tears, but a child is rescued and cared for at the end of the day. No matter how long it takes, the author pours into them as if they were their own, writes down their story that happened before they got there, and then eventually sends them back to their lives when the pieces are all stitched up, leaving them in a much better place than they found them. The author cares for them like their own children, but realizes these characters have lives apart from the author, and with many hugs and tears, sends them back out into the world as better people. It’s a very personal ministry, and the author is pleasantly surprised when it happens to benefit other people too.
Me! I frequently think of myself as a journalist and counselor who lets these strangers into my heart and home to raise them for a short time and impart wisdom to them. I write whatever is laid on my heart at the time and have no interest in writing to market. I write only Christian fiction to teach a message and process what I’m learning. I then move on to the next story like I would a next sermon message, hoping it goes back out into the world furthering Christ’s kingdom. I shed tears over every single book I write.
It has been said of Christian apologetic and well-beloved author C.S. Lewis: “Almost immediately, Lewis set out in a new direction, most demonstrably in his writing. Earlier efforts to become a poet were laid to rest. The new Christian devoted his talent and energy to writing prose that reflected his recently found faith. Lewis was frequently under attack for his decidedly Christian lifestyle. Even close Christian friends like Owen Barfield and J.R.R. Tolkien openly disapproved of Lewis’s evangelistic speaking and writing. In fact, Lewis’s Christian books caused so much disapproval that he was more than once passed over for a professorship at Oxford, with the honors going to men of lesser reputation.” – Christianity Today
The Biological Parent
This type of author gives birth to their novel or set of characters under much blood, sweat, and tears. They are not clients, they’re not foster children, but they’re bone of their bone and flesh of their flesh. They are intrinsically tied to the heart and soul of the author who sees themselves in that character like a parent would recognize their own nose, eyes, or smile in their child. They have a relationship with those characters outside of the novel that goes deeper than what the reader will ever see. “Raising” those characters is often an 18+ year endeavor, just like raising a child, and means draft after draft, revision after revision, often times never seen by another living soul, as they prep that child to finally maybe eventually step out of their home and make it on their own. The child never leaves their mind, however, and the relationship continues for the author’s whole life as backstories, side stories, and endless sequels pepper the horizon. This author feels a kinship with their characters that’s hard to explain except to say they gave birth to and raised them their whole life. Their books may be fewer, but go beyond trends, and often create well-loved classics.
It has been said of “the father of modern fantasy” J.R.R. Tolkien: “Tolkien would go through many edits and rewrites over the next twelve years, putting the book down for some time, then working feverishly through chapters at a time. He wrote in the empty spaces of student exams and charted a Middle Earth lunar cycle on an air raid watch card. Tolkien was utterly committed to consistency in what he would call his ‘sub-creation’ – what fantasy authors now refer to as ‘world-building.’ As his story grew in both complexity and length, so did his notes and papers. Finally, in 1949, Tolkien’s manuscript was sent off to his publisher. He was a master craftsman, though, and never quite satisfied with his work. Even in final edits, Tolkien would make corrections within the confines of the typesetting. Due to some waffling about publication, The Fellowship of the Ring was not printed until July 1954, and The Two Towers followed in November. Tolkien missed his deadline for the third volume, reworking the material in the appendices, and readers had to wait until October 1955 to learn the fate of their beloved Middle Earth. While many other authors had published works of fantasy before Tolkien, the great success of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings led directly to a popular resurgence of the genre. The Times ranked him sixth on a list of ‘The 50 greatest British writers since 1945.” – Katie Behrens, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Epic Quest: Writing Lord of the Rings
The Time Traveler’s Wife author, Audrey Niffenegger: “My first novel took me four and a half years to write; the second took seven years, though that was because I fell so in love with the research that I had a hard time stopping so I could finish the book. I once spent fourteen years working on a graphic novel. Why do I let this happen? Because it’s fun. Now that you have created your fictional people and the world they live in, you have probably discovered that they are terrific company and that they are all living in your brain. Suddenly you have a party in your head and it is hard to make that party happen any faster than it wants to happen. And when the party is finally over, you will feel bereft and alone. So why not slow down and have the maximum experience?”
Which one are you? And do you become a different type of author with separate projects?
Did I miss any types? Any to add?