I apologize in advance for the long post today. I hope you get something out of it.
I hadn’t planned to write a topic today either, but then I wandered across PJ Parrish’s post “When Should A Story End?” (“Of Interest”) and came across this doozy:
“…writers should strive to make each plot point arise organically from character.” Later, she talks about a character living an “unauthentic” life. I don’t wonder.
Topic: Let Your Characters Live Their Own Lives
I’ve seen too many Nationwide Insurance commercials lately. My first thought as I read the excerpt above was “Tiny baby shoes. So close.” (grin)
If only Ms. Parrish had written “writers should ALLOW each plot point to arise organically from character.” Because then it would be truly organic. To the characters. In their story.
But she didn’t. And frankly, that whole “strive to make” thing causes me to shudder. Really. Physically.
A very long time ago I was a control freak. I “strived to make” everyone and everything in my life “fit” like I wanted them to. That included “my” fictional stories (before I found the light), pets, friends and even my wife. Honestly, I’m amazed she kept me around.
I remain a very strong-willed individual, but I direct most (I hope “all”) of that inward now, to my own self-discipline, sense of morality, etc. And that’s where it belongs. After all, what right do I have to tell anyone else what to do or how to do it?
(Disclaimer: Yes, of course you must levy control over your young children, but that’s to safeguard them, not to bend them to your will.)
So the answer to “What right do I have…” is None. No right at all. No right and no privelege. I do the actual typing, but my characters’ stories are THEIR stories.
I can (and should, and do) control myself, my actions and reactions. For example, I am in charge of how I feel about other people, how I treat them, etc. But THEY are in charge of how they feel about me and everything else in their life.
In my writing life, I am strictly in charge of when and how much I write and even which characters I write about and which stories I choose to tell.
But once I’ve selected which story to tell, the CHARACTERS are in charge of the story. The CHARACTERS are in charge of their actions and reactions. The CHARACTERS are in charge of their own self-discipline and sense of morality or lack thereof.
When I’m very lucky, they sometimes act “out of character,” meaning they do or say something I wasn’t expecting. Do I force them back onto the straight and narrow? No. I trust the process, leave it alone, and let them tell their own story. And I’ve literally never been sorry.
I’m glad I’m no longer a control freak. When you assume control over another entity, you also assume responsibility. I have enough to do just being responsible for myself.
It isn’t my place to “strive to make” plot points arise from my characters. And if I did, those plot points wouldn’t be “organic,” now would they?
Plot points come from and are a component part of Story. And Story comes from the characters. As I’ve said many times, “After all, the characters are the ones who are LIVING the story. Let them tell it to you.”
But again, you’re in charge of the keyboard. You can force events and plot points and character actions and reactions in “your” stories if you want to. That’s your right as a writer.
You can take responsibility for every plot point, every twist and turn, and every word of dialogue. You can take responsibility for every character, along with his or her sense of morality, his or her actions and reactions.
You can force-feed the reader the whole thing according to how you believe the characters “should” act or react and what they “should” or “should not” do or say.
But then it won’t be your characters’ authentic story, will it? It will be YOUR story. And the characters will be trudging along, grudgingly, under your whip. And it will show.
Just like when you force your spouse or friend into a particular mold. That part of their life will be an extension of YOUR story, not theirs. And they’ll resent you for it.
And so will your characters.
Another excerpt from another item in “Of Interest”: Dan Brown of The Da Vinci Code fame, wrote
“I definitely had a number of weeks when I became self-aware. You type a sentence and say: ‘Wait a minute, how many millions of people are going to read that?’ And you read it again and see the word ‘there’. You suddenly say: ‘I didn’t even spell that right.’ You become the guy trying to swing the baseball bat who’s thinking of how to move the muscles and you’re crippled.
“I think that’s very common across many disciplines when you have success. I was fortunate pretty quickly to be able to say: ‘Wait a minute, you just need to do what you did the last four times, which is to write the book that you’d want to read and if you read this paragraph and you’d like to read it, you’re done.’ I was able to move on from that and write The Lost Symbol, which I was thrilled with and did great and a lot of people like it better than Da Vinci Code.”
Wow. I rolled out late this morning at 5. To the Hovel by 5:30 and wrote the stuff above and much of what’s below. Now it’s a little after 7 and I’m headed to the house for a break.
Back to the Hovel and the novel at 8:30. But I had to take care of a few admin tasks relating to websites, contact a few authors, etc. Finally, a little after 9, I’m opening the novel.
One of my sons and his family will arrive late tonight to spend Thanksgiving with us, so I hope to get as much done today as possible. Not sure when or whether I’ll have the opportunity to write for the next few days. (grin)
A great day. Close to my best day ever, if it wasn’t. And the story finally interests me enough that I can barely wait to get back to it. (grin)
Talk with you again soon.
To see a bit of Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s writing process, see “On ‘Joyride'” at https://fromearthtothestars.com/2018/11/14/on-joyride/.
See “Book Baby Marketing Conference (Part II)” at https://lindamayeadams.com/2018/11/20/book-baby-marketing-conference-part-ii/.
See “Da Vinci Code’s Dan Brown on how to write a bestseller” at http://www.thepassivevoice.com/da-vinci-codes-dan-brown-on-how-to-write-a-bestseller/.
See “Free Fiction Monday: Pudgygate” at https://kriswrites.com/2018/11/19/free-fiction-monday-pudgygate-2/.
See “When Should A Story End?” at https://killzoneblog.com/2018/11/when-should-a-story-end.html. Yes, I commented.
Fiction Words: 5909
Nonfiction Words: 1120 (Journal)
So total words for the day: 7029
Writing of Dread (novel, tentative title)
Day 1…… 3706 words. Total words to date…… 3706
Day 2…… 3023 words. Total words to date…… 6729
Day 3…… 4479 words. Total words to date…… 11208
Day 4…… 5909 words. Total words to date…… 17117
Total fiction words for the month……… 63733
Total fiction words for the year………… 442263
Total nonfiction words for the month… 11750
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 162856
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 604799
Calendar Year 2018 Novels to Date………………………… 9
Calenday Year 2018 Novellas to Date…………………… 3
Calendar Year 2018 Short Stories to Date……… 11
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)………………………………………… 35
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)……………………………………… 7
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)……………………… 193
Short story collections…………………………………………………… 31