Totally Out Of Control. Writing, that is (seemingly, at least) – it’s not just the way I do it, either – Characters roam off, following their own dreams, plots crack open in new and surprising ways, giving glimpses of potential and new directions, and writers bump into things that shake them, move them or otherwise inspire them to tweak something – yes, again – The whole process is messy and may, on the surface of things, look to be totally out of control.
I never realized just complicated the activity is until I started telling You Lot about it, and I’ve been writing 45 years for a very long time now.
How does it get so messy?
The spark of a story, for me, is usually an emotion, something born from unusual circumstances, which (if I can make them so) are nice and tight and twisty. The process from deciding on the emotion to settling the details of the circumstances might take minutes or months. It’s all, at this stage, in the mind. It’s also tidy.
If the concept and details excite me, I work on how such a set of circumstances could come about. This is important. It will also take more time and is likely to get messy because it has to be realistic. If readers don’t believe the circumstances, they won’t believe the emotions or the story. I can’t just say it is so, either. To make those circumstances real, I have to give them legitimacy. Giving reason for those circumstances to exist also gives me a backdrop, a place where this can happen.
Still in the mind, this continues to come as (mostly) clean blocks of information.
After that comes character development – yes, you can see trouble coming, I know you can.
At this point, I’m usually writing. I’ll have notes for the backdrop and I will have written up the climax, although I know that it will change when the characterization is settled. As people and relationships change, their voices and reactions change, too. That means all dialogue will have to be rewritten, so those notes are more like guidelines.
Here it begins to get messy. Characters grow as I decide who these people are, where they came from and why and how they got into the situation I have devised. That’s where the story is, with the characters, and the characters are finding each other.
Their personalities meet and merge or clash, and then their foibles pop up. One or two might want to go their own way (characters, that is, not foibles. Do concentrate, you guys).
On top of that, this is where I will bump into the unexpected consequences of realism – such as Va’el not being the 18 year-old I envisaged, but having to be a mere 10. Simple mathematics won’t allow it to be otherwise. There is, of course, a huge difference in the mentality of a 10 year-old compared to an 18 year-old. I have a similar problem with another boy, restricted to age 11 when all his dialogue comes from a 15 year-old. That’s another rewrite.
By now it’s hugely messy. Things I have set in motion trip up other things I have set in motion and I realize that some things I took for granted just don’t work. Another rewrite (or several) takes place as I search for solutions.
By now the story is ablaze in my heart and soul – no way I’m going to abandon the thing because someone has to be younger than I thought him, or some other piece of logic gets in my way. No, it’s onward, regardless. But I do have to find a way.
All the while, of course, side issues crop up, potential opens, other twists present themselves and new characters steal the show.
It’s a wonderful adventure, writing. We get the entire journey, warts, worries, foibles and all. I wondered why we did it, and now I know! 😀
I can’t speak for anyone else, but this is the type of post I like seeing from writers. So few share or so few even know how to share it. Thanks!
Mate, you are most welcome, and thank you so much for saying so – this is the type of post I like best to write. 😀
It is fun to read about the process when the final product is so neatly wrapped and tied.
Makes yor realize all the work that goes into it.
It makes me realize all the work that goes into it! 😀
I love the last words. “I wondered why we did it, and now I know!”, that’s the point 🙂
Yes, some of this stuff I didn’t even realize until I started telling people about it. Weird, huh. 😛
No, it’s not weird, sometimes it works that way.
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Confuse to say anything about this article.. Awesome work i really like it. Thanks for sharing.
I hope it was not too confusing. 🙂 Then again, writing a book can be very confusing. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Cheers! 😀
Lately I’ve been snapping the reins a little on my characters when they start to wander off. I remind myself that they can go where I want them to, IF IF IF I justify it in the story. This is huge. There may be some backstory needed or I may have to box them in — which is very dangerous, because if you don’t justify *that* you’re patronizing the reader.
I can understand the boxing in. When I come up with a situation for my lot, and I want to keep them stuck there because that’s where the challenge/climax is, I have to think of every logical way out so that I can then systematically and rationally block those exits off. Yes, it’s got to be justified, I totally agree, but it also has to be done or you’re going to end up with readers saying, “Why don’t they just…” [fill in the blank].
If you have space to move, and time to allow it, you can always see just where it is your characters are trying to go. As you have no doubt witnessed, it can surprise you. If it’s not where you want them to go, you can always rip it out – that’s how I found out that giving them some freedom works. I kept telling myself that I would take it all out again, which helped me not to feel too lost. It would have been very easy just to not allow it at all, but I would have ended up missing out. I keep thinking how close I came to not learning something valuable. 😀
That’s not to say that all characters should be let loose to go roam and write their own story, so snapping at the reins might be exactly what’s needed, but yes, if YOU want them somewhere there must be a logical reason for it from their perspective, I agree.
I love this sort of balancing act a writer must do – and I love this sort of discussion. It shows the other side of the craft, the part readers don’t normally glimpse or even know about. It’s the “game” and the “puzzle” for writers (fun, for the most part), to make it work inside and outside the written word.
It’s totally awesome 🙂 . As for boxing in and character will, I think it’s a balancing act between being able to do anything and making sure characters do things consistent with who they are. I agree 100% about “well why didn’t they do X?” Once I had a character who didn’t call the police, basically, because he was going to try to talk things out with the person threatening them, who was part of his family. He simply had to try to talk it out first, and it backfired on him. On a different note, I did a fanfic once where an Imperial soldier is squaring off against a lightsaber-wielding Sith. I looked at it a few different ways, wrote two different scenes, and I just said to myself, “Dude, he’s outclassed. There’s no way he wins this fight.” (Matt folds his arms.) All right, so he knows that too. So how does he stack the deck so that he can win?
I think letting the character tell you where they’re taking the story is one of the most exciting things that happens in writing. I think writers resisting that is one of the worst sources of writers block.
Agreed. A character going their own way is part of who they are. If a character is going to be true to him or herself, they will pull in the right direction. I so agree this is incredibly exciting. When trusted, that process also makes it so much easier to write. I find that, anyway.
You raise an interesting point about a writer blocking their natural inclination becoming a source of writers’ block. I had not looked at that before and I think you are right. I wonder if it’s a case – at least in part – of the subconscious mind saying, “Right, well, if you’re not going to listen to me, then I’ll just quit right now.”
I find the whole process fascinating. 🙂