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Shop talk (anything and everything on writing)

Don’t let the buggers get you down

There is a huge problem with characters once you have created them, of course: they go off by themselves. It’s supposed to be a sign that you have done your job properly, but there is nothing more annoying than a character who thinks he knows better than you.
Don’t be nuts, I hear you say, after all, aren’t you, the writer, in charge? And the short answer to that is, no. I quite often get to the end of a story, and I have no idea how I got there. Sometimes I just start with a really strong character and hope for the best, and I’m just led along, step by step to a conclusion I hadn’t expected, but which is so right. Other times, well.
The problem is the plot. You have to have an idea of where you want your characters to go. I’ve talked before about not shoehorning them into a narrow path, but you do have to have some kind of plan, based on their personalities and situation. If for example, you are writing a romantic novel, and you’re not sure if you’re doing it right, Mills and Boon are very happy to look at three chapters and a synopsis of the rest. The trouble begins when the publishers give you the green light and you get to the end of chapter four and then your characters turn round and bite you. They’re all set up to have a row, or a bit of sexual tension, and they basically down tools and refuse. They turn into those method actor types who suddenly want to know their motivation, and then you lose your nerve and you stop writing because, actually, maybe they’re right.
Maybe your hero doesn’t want a steamy moment in the shower with the heroine; and maybe after all the emotional rollercoaster stuff she’s been through since Chapter One (when her heart began thudding wildly and hasn’t stopped since) she’s got a thumping headache. Poor girl.
The first thing to do in this situation, is not to put it away and promise you will come back later; you won’t. Go back to the beginning and read through it. Writing is a lot like knitting in some respects; you can drop a stitch and not notice, and then it’s only after a whole lot of stuff has unravelled, that you realise that you are deep in the doo doo. With a read through, you can often see where your characters took a wrong turn, or where you can insert stuff that will bring them back up to speed again.
The most important thing is to finish your writing session on a high, rather than on an extremely gloomy, ‘I just can’t do this,’ low. Characters can get you down, but don’t let the stroppy buggers stand in your way.

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About elainecanham

I started blogging because I'm a writer, and I thought I ought to. Now I realise that I blog because I like to; even when I can't think of much to say.

Discussion

4 thoughts on “Don’t let the buggers get you down

  1. So true about characters. Havbe you ever read Stephen King’s book called On Writing? It’s one of the best writing texts I’ve come across. He says he starts out with a premise, adds some characters, and likes to let them loose to see where they go. Of course you need a plan, and an ending in mind, but if you’re too much of a control freak, you miss out on half of the fun.

    Posted by geanieroake | September 24, 2013, 10:20 pm
    • I must admit I have trouble following my own advice at times. The trouble is, I get a picture in my head, or a really good intro and I’m off, and then about 500 words later I sit back and I think, where am I going? Who are these people?

      Posted by elainecanham | September 24, 2013, 10:42 pm
  2. Blimey, thanks for the compliment Michael, although I think Dostoevsky probably spent a lot more time remonstrating with Raskolnikov than I ever did with my bunch of darkly lowering alpha males.

    Posted by elainecanham | September 23, 2013, 8:56 am
  3. The great Russian critic Mikhail Bakhtin wrote in his book on Dostoevsky’s Poetics that the great Russian novelist created characters who were truly separate from him, that Raskolnikov for instance begins to create himself in Crime and Punishment, authoring his own consciousness as much as the grim novelist does. It’s hard for people who are not writers to understand that concept. It’s clear to me that you do absolutely.

    Posted by michaelalexanderchaney | September 23, 2013, 1:56 am

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