Taking Control

I asked him last night, “do you think my blog is boring?”

Now, this is certainly a loaded question, but he handled it with his usual ability to be both diplomatic and direct (and yes, sometimes tactless) all at once.  He answered with  something along the lines of “It would be more interesting if you actually wrote about something.  Right now your posts sound like extended Facebook statuses, like you’re updating for the sake of updating.”

Right, then.  I knew there was something lacking, or I wouldn’t have asked in the first place.  Sometimes it’s dangerous for writers to be in love with other writers.  And other times, it makes the criticism you need to hear a lot easier to take.  The above answer came from the dear, wonderful man whom I love… And he tends to be right.

Incidentally, he gave me something to write about and I’m not sure he knew that he was doing it.  This morning, I logged into Facebook and saw this on his Timeline:

“I hate writers who talk about their characters like they’re entities beyond their control. I heard Stephanie Meyer talking about this s**t as I was flipping through channels and she was being interviewed. “Edward decided to do this,” or “Jacob told me he was that…” I don’t remember the specifics, I was too busy trying to dislodge my fist from the screen. I joke. But at the end of the day, you can’t be passive in your command of the plot, or the characters within it. Chess pieces do not move themselves around the board. Magic cards do not play themselves. Warhammer pieces do not position themselves on the battlefield. Take command of your f*****g story.”

I’m pretty sure that this was directed at me, even in its generalizations.

Now, I’m going to ignore the fact that he hates Twilight when I like it.  We’ve gone the rounds on that one.  The more important point here is exactly what I was talking about yesterday.  Characters who try to take control of the story, and what should be done with them.

From the viewpoint of a former psychology major, I don’t know if it’s that the characters have become separate entities in one’s head, or if the writer simply manages to see things differently and it seems like the character is speaking to her because of it.  I’m leaning toward the latter, because I know many writers who speak of their characters as real people, who are not (certifiably) insane.  It’s not that we think that they actually are separate entities, but I think there is some part of us that wants our characters to take on that life of their own.  Otherwise it’s difficult to write for them.

I like to let my characters surprise me from time to time.  Every once in a while I’ll think that I know all there is to know about them, and then they’ll reveal something to me that I’d never considered.  Part of it is because my own world view didn’t allow me to see the obvious until that point, and part of it is because I wasn’t allowing the character to develop fully.  For example, in my young adult project, I have a very strong, compassionate young woman who is an amazing, supportive secondary character.  But because I grew up with a very conservative religious outlook on life, and some of the values still lingered even after I abandoned religion, I couldn’t see until recently that she would rather date women than men.   Once I managed to figure that out, the difficulty I’d been having with her sub-plot resolved itself rather quickly.

However, there are times when the character seems to want to deviate from the story.  Sometimes these characters are plot-critical, as in the case I discussed yesterday.   He is a demanding character, both on and off the page.  I did not expect him to show up where and when he did, and I’m not sure I like it.   It is times like these that we have to remind ourselves that we are the authors, and that the characters need to stick to at least the most rudimentary of railroad tracks.   I refuse to rewrite a perfectly good outline in order to fit him in where I’ve already he doesn’t need to be.

As my best friend commented on the post quoted above,

“To a certain extent, it’s fun and useful to let the characters play, but at the end of the day, I’m still the one in charge.”

I think that remembering this could certainly alleviate some of the frustration that I felt yesterday, right?

In conclusion: I’ve moved that scene out of book one’s prologue.  It comes later, and the character can just put on his big girl panties and deal with it.  (And what a mental image that is…)

Liked it? Take a second to support Jenna Bowman on Patreon!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *