Should You Show Your Characters Who’s Boss?
Podcast Audio Link: Click here.
Podcast Transcript: Hi, genuine writers! This is Innovative Editing’s Jeannette DiLouie officially welcoming you to episode #13 of The Genuine Writer Podcast. We keep things short, sweet and to the point here so that you can learn what you need to learn and get back to writing already.
Today’s episode is sponsored once again by Writing Your Novel, Book 2: Create Compelling Novel Characters: How to Make Your Heroes, Villains (and All the Rest) Stand Out. This e-booklet – which I’ll of course include the link for in the episode description section – delves further into the main topic we’re focusing on in The Genuine Writer blog for the next few weeks.
You can get the e-booklet for just $2.99 on Amazon today. Or, if you want to get the same information for free, just at a bit of a slower pace, go ahead and sign up for Innovative Editing’s free e-letter by going to www.InnovativeEditing.com and scroll down to The Genuine Writer sign-up box toward the bottom of the page.
Now moving on…
If you’re not a hard-core, experienced plotter – someone who outlines every single detail about their story before actually writing it down – then the issue we’re going to discuss today might not ever be something you have to deal with. Hard-core, experienced pantsers, however – those writers who don’t do a single bit of pre-writing setup – will know exactly what I mean. So they already know what to expect as well.
That’s why this podcast episode isn’t actually for either hard-core, experienced plotters or hard-core, experienced pantsers. It’s for new writers or writers who haven’t otherwise figured out their best way of getting a manuscript completed. This isn’t to force anything on anyone. I’m very much about everyone figuring out which styles and stimuli work best for them. But in case you’re still exploring what works and what doesn’t work in your creative writing sphere, here’s something to consider as you go along.
You probably have this whole entire vision of what your story is going to look like. You’ll know what your characters are going to do, when, how and why. Here’s how the whole thing starts, and this – this right here – is exactly how it’s going to end. You just know it.
And so you start writing. For a while, everything is absolutely fine. It’s going exactly as expected until, suddenly, out of the blue, some character – probably that headstrong protagonist of yours – veers off course. He’s at a crossroad in the plot, as expected, but he’s supposed to go left. Not straight. Not right. Left.
Yet he doesn’t go left. In fact, he doesn’t go straight or right either. He turns around and goes back about five yards to take some crummy little dirt path completely off course: an option you didn’t even notice as you wrote it.
What in the world is going on? What happened to your perfect plan? Should you scratch out the last five paragraphs and try a “take 2” of your plot in progress?
The answer is maybe. Maybe that’s what’s best for you and your story. But it might also be worthwhile to keep going where your character wants to go – to hand over the reins and see what happens next. It might be a little disconcerting. A little scary even. And I genuinely can’t tell you how it’s going to work out for you. All I can say is that I never once regretted letting my characters take over, even when I had the “perfect” story beginning, middle and end all written out in my head already.
Then again, I’m one of those weirdo hard-core pantsers. If you trend toward the plotting side of things, and this happens to you, you might be in shock. Denial even. This kind of thing isn’t supposed to happen, or so you’ve always believed. To illustrate a hard-core plotter’s point of view on the subject, here’s how one extreme skeptic, who goes by the name of MilesTro, put it on WritingForums.org:
Some writers says that they let their characters take control of their stories in order to see how their stories will turn out. But how is that possible? As writers, we are the ones in control of our stories; not our characters because we do all the writing and planning. Characters are a pack of words that are written to describe a made-up person. They can’t do anything unless you write them to do something. Characters are like computer programs that only function if you write their code. I guess it is imagination that some writers use to create the illustration that their characters are controlling the story. But I write my characters by planning on what they will do, or else I will get a ton of writer’s block. What do you think?
That might very well be how MilesTro’s brain works. In which case, good for him and his brain. That’s not sarcastic at all, for the record. Again, this is about discovering, respecting and working with what you’ve got and what’s going to make you write your best possible writing. But sometimes, for some people in some situations, that means letting your characters have their way with the story.
I get how that might not make much sense to other people and even other writers. I already know I’m going to struggle to explain how it works, but I’m going to try anyway. Perhaps the best logical-sounding way that I can explain it is to say that some writers have misfiring synapses in their brains like a light bulb that flickers occasionally. Most of the time, it works just fine. But every once in a while, particularly when you’re home all alone or it’s Friday the 13th – or you’re home all alone on Friday the 13th – it doesn’t quite work right.
For the record, I’ve got no real science backing me up on this analogy. Or at least so little that it’s not even worth mentioning. Any actual scientists listening in can probably tell that I was an English major, not a biologist, back in school. But I’m going to stick with my shaky mental wiring idea here anyway.
For Mr. Miles Tro above, he’s right: A normal human brain has full control over sending the proper signals to type out “The protagonist went left” or “The secondary character went right.” However, there are other brains that blank out on sending the intended message for a second, a minute or perhaps more while still telling those fingers to keep on typing.
Here’s another way of looking at it, courtesy of talking this out with my engineering father, in fact. It’s like a bunny trail when you’re speaking. You don’t set out to derail yourself. But one thought prompts another thought that prompts a slightly less connected thought and, before you know it, you’re talking about a completely unrelated topic.
I know that bunny trails aren’t quite the same thing, so I do understand if the concept is still a bit difficult to grasp. But the larger concept doesn’t care whether you can or can’t wrap your brain around characters taking over. Bottom line is that it’s a thing. And it could be a thing that happens to you.
So let’s say it does, ruining your written or mental outline of where the story is going. What in the world do you do from there?
First thing’s first: Do not panic. You may or may not be in complete and total charge of your first draft at all times, but you are the master of your final draft. So breathe. Moreover, once your brain is fully functional again, you can tell it to tell your fingers to press the backspace button and delete that accidental segment you’re so very bothered by.
That’s your choice, and it might even be the right one to do.
But in case it isn’t, stop and think before you do that. Could your faulty brain have actually given you a gift? Might your story actually be better this way than it otherwise would have been?
If you wrote out an outline of any type, take a second to look it over. How much extra work are you giving yourself if you follow this new path far enough to see where it goes? And, regardless of whether you’re an outliner or not, can you still tie the narrative into the most major moments you want to cover?
After you’ve answered those questions, your final step is to determine which one you’re more tied to: the old way of looking at things – which may be wrong or right – or the new way of looking at things, which also may be wrong or right.
Feel free to ask for input from others if you’d like. But if I can give one final piece of advice here, I’d say go with your gut. Whichever one feels right is probably the right way to go. Even if it does take you out of the driver’s seat and hands the wheel over to some made-up character who shouldn’t logically be able to control anything.
Thanks for tuning in to The Genuine Writer Podcast. As always, it was awesome to have you here and I’ll catch you all next week. Until then, very happy writing!