Friday, May 24, 2013

Letting Your Characters Lead

I've just finished two novels and am writing this to delay starting the editing process. I'm still a relatively new author and have discovered letting your characters lead helps me avoid the dreaded writer's block.

Each of the novels I've written has started out with me pretty much knowing where the plot is headed. So I think. I'm a sort of half plotter - half panster. I'm becoming more of a plotter by outlining the events I want in the book. I'm a panster by taking an idea that comes along in the middle of my writing and going with it. The combination seems to work for me.

I've found that I might as well let my characters lead since they are going to whether I fight them on it or not. In my first novel, Healing Love, Magdelina Taylor was supposed to be a nasty young woman bent on breaking up or at least causing problems for the main characters. Her mother, Beulah, is a nasty. Through several books she's a nasty. (I could use a different word but you know what I mean.) I tried to make Magdelina be nasty. Very hard I tried to force her into the role I had planned for her. She absolutely refused.

Non-writers don't understand that characters come alive in the mind of the writer. Talk about it with people and they give you this funny look as if you are crazy. (Maybe we are. Or I am.) My characters are alive to me with distinct personalities and have plans and goals with their lives. Maggie (as she prefers to be called) let me know in no uncertain terms that she was not going to be who I thought she was going to be.

I was stymied for a while. It was my first book after all. When I finally allowed Maggie to lead me the way she wanted everything worked out. Not only was my writing flying from my fingers but suddenly Maggie became the lead female in the second book.

Character traits can also be directed by the character. I didn't know Nell yet but she was out there waiting to be found in the book. Once she was imagine my surprise when she whispered instead of speaking in a normal voice. Letting Nell whisper instead of forcing her to talk in a normal tone helped define the character and her background. Why she whispered. I could have simply ignored her but I would have struggled to write some of the effects her life had on her.

Allowing the characters to lead can send the story in different ways than you expect. Plot lines can change. Character interactions are modified. I've had to scrap entire outlines because the characters took it in a different direction than I thought. Hopefully it's better than if I'd forced my view of their world on them.

Letting the characters influence where the story goes is, for me, part of the fun of writing. Just as our lives go in directions we don't expect, the lives of those in our books may take us someplace other than where we are aimed. Let them take you down the unexpected path. It just might be a better one.

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  1. Love the sign--fun how writers can talk to each other. This novel I'm working on now is the first one I'm writing that didn't have some seriously dedicated plotting on paper. I did have a synopsis, but more stuff keeps happening and strange people are popping out of the woods. I'm having one of those out of control rides, and it's sort of fun, if a little scary.

  2. I find that characters 'do their own thing' every now and then. I have had it happen in a Regency romance novel where the evil, lecherous rake had a noble change of heart (and it made for a more interesting story). In one of my MG adventures, I kept wanting the main little hero to receive something very special, a historical amulet. Well, he insisted his cousin get it, so I had to give in. Not sure how it will pan out but since it is a series, anything can happen! That's the fun of writing. Sometimes it's a surprise for the author as well as the readers.

  3. Lisa Lickel; I feel synopsis should come in the end and conviction is firmed up with this post. I h've also seen how a not well thought out character awaits attention and becomes interesting when we let the characters grow and have their freedom of thought, expression and movement. Thanks Elaine for a wonderful post. It reinforced my many ideas.