Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Clear Thinking

I've been struggling with a vicious head cold this week and it's got me pondering about the art of thinking clearly. It's difficult to achieve this when your head feels as if it's stuffed full of cotton balls, but how can you write if you don't have a plan? Furthermore, how clearly do your characters think?

As a writer, I have to know where I'm going. I need to know the main points of my plots before I start to write. I know what information has to come out when; I can't imagine just sitting down and writing. I need some sense of order, some sense of control. I have to think clearly.

Some characters are naturally clear-thinkers. You can strand them in a pelting rainstorm with leaky shoes and they'll still find their way to shelter. Other characters will sit down and cry. Others will worry about how much they paid for the shoes that are now leaking.

Clear-thinking characters are often the main players. Their decisiveness and less emotional natures make them wonderful plot-pushers. They are concerned with action, not reaction. Usually highly intelligent, these characters are not easily fooled. I try to give my clear-thinkers some sort of Achilles heel to make them more identifiable. Perhaps they have a thing about finishing the crossword every morning within a certain time or perhaps they have to stir their coffee five times before they drink it. Maybe they have a favourite mug. Even clear-thinkers aren't robots (unless you're writing science fiction, in which case, maybe they are!)

I would think it would be incredibly irritating to have the crier as a main character. Wouldn't any reader get fed up and start imagining whacking the poor thing with a heavy shovel? Overly emotional characters can be exhausting; sooner or later you want them to just grow up and behave. Of course, there are those characters that overreact. But why do they overreact? Is it plausible or is it a case of 'pay attention to me'? I tend to put my emotional characters in supporting roles as I have found a little goes a long way.

The character who's concerned about their shoes could be described as a combination of the two previous types. On the one hand, he's clear-thinking enough to be aware of money he's just thrown away since the leaky shoes are obviously of inferior workmanship. On the other hand, he's upset a pair of shoes have been ruined. What if they were his favourite shoes? What if they were his lucky shoes? What if the pair of shoes were a gift from someone near and dear? This is the type of character I tend to make a main character. Sometimes clear thinking, sometimes emotional. I find them more human and thus easier both to write and to relate to.

Are your characters clear-thinkers? Are they criers? Or are they worried about the leakiness of their shoes?


  1. I try to make most of my characters clear-thinkers. You're right, too much emotion is draining. Overly emotional characters do make good victims, though.

  2. Elspeth - That's a really important question to ask - how clearly do one's characters think? Hm... Well, my sleuth thinks clearly, but he's an ex-cop-turned-professor, so that's what he's been taught to do. Some of his colleagues think very clearly, too. But muddle-headed characters can be very useful, especially if they're muddled 85-90% of the time, but once in a while, they say something brilliant. Really interesting point...

  3. Perception is the key here! I mean - lots of people come across as rational clear thinkers and they might go all to pieces when a crisis rears its interesting head. And the flakes might come in handy. In my series of one and a half (!) I have a cop who is a clear thinker but I also always have some artsy flakes around who are VERY helpful because they are right brain thinkers.

  4. Alan; Yes! Kill them! Drown them in something salty!

    Margot; You've used a lovely phrase 'muddle-headed' characters. They are useful, aren't they? Out of the mouths of babes, etc. Wonderful point.

    Jan; You've made a very good point, some so-called rational people can go unbalanced in a crisis. I agree with you about artsy flakes; handy and humourous. It also helps they are able to think outside the box.

  5. I am amazed when I read bestsellers with wimpy protagonists. I'm with you, they get on my nerves after a chapter or two. I have to have some respect for a character that I'm going to put up with for an entire novel. You, Elspeth, are obviously a clear thinker! Hope that head cold clears up soon.

  6. I've definitely closed books in disgust because the main character was annoyingly unlikeable in one of the ways you described -- either a whiner or a crier. For secondary characters it is fine, but you expect your protagonist (and even your antagonist in a way) to lead you as a reader, and who wants to follow someone who acts like they have a head cold all the time?



  7. I like Margot's response and will agree "muddle- headed characters can be very useful". Just like "real" people when a muddletons say
    something worthwhile, we all take pause.

  8. Elizabeth; I hope this head cold clears up quickly too! This is the wrong time of year to feel ill.

    Michele; Isn't it awful when the main characters are irritating? I can never get myself to care what happens to them.

    JW; Muddletons can be useful. What a wonderful word...well done!

  9. My protagonists usually fall into the clear thinkers category. I rarely write whiners, but often have those who worry too much about their shoes. Hope your cold goes away soon.

  10. Most of my main characters are clear thinkers as well. However I do like writing those scenes when they are overwhelmed by action or emotion and their thinking becomes somewhat skewed. I like the contrast and letting the reader see the impact of the emotion on them.

  11. I prefer the clear thinking characters, they make for far more entertaining readers. Though if the character is too logical they start being more robotic than character like so it is usually good to give your decisive and clear thinking character some severe emotional hang-ups and prejudices, just to keep them interesting. Thanks for sharing this.

  12. Carol; Characters who worry about their shoes have been some of the most famous characters ever.

    Jemi; Ypu've made a very good point. Giving our characters a good shake and skewing their natural thinking pattern is a way of giving depth.

    Cassandra; Interesting characters are the key, aren't they? Thanks for dropping by.

  13. Hey - I thought sure I left a comment here yesterday, but I guess it didn't publish.
    Anyway, love this post. Good points on making characters believable. We all have little quirks, and characters should worry about stupid stuff like real people.

    Marvin D Wilson

  14. My main character in my current book is turning out to be annoyingly emotional, and I am just about ready to smack her upside the head with a shovel. But hopefully she will pull herself together before the novel's done!


Please leave a comment as I love to hear from you!