I hear so often from fellow authors that ‘my character just took over the story,’ or ‘I don’t know where we’re going to end up, I’m just letting the character drive.’ Not sure if I entirely buy that – but I’m definitely open to discussion on the topic. I’ve always felt that an author must do the driving and allow characters to navigate. But like your average GPS system, sometimes you just know a better way and as the driver you need to take that route regardless of what you’re being told. I can just hear my Magellan Navigator telling me I missed my exit and to go back. But, I often I do know what way is best, especially when I know more about the destination.
Another problem I see is a little closer to home for me lately: my characters often reflect my own inner rambling, hopes, dreams, and yes … pain. Unless you want to depress your readers, and I don’t know – maybe you might, I don’t think we should allow these reflections to choose the path. I suggest that if you do, you’ll find yourself not writing a story but writing a biography in which you are airing your laundry. This is not to say that applying what we feel can’t be a substantial way for us to communicate about human growth through our characters, even in my genre of Steampunk (maybe most importantly in this genre.) We each are getting vital life lessons and infusing them into the words and thoughts of our creations. No one wants to read about people who go through heaven and hell and end up right back where they were – unchanged – if so, pick up any Star Trek novel where authors are told to do exactly that: don’t spoil the characters. That’s a cheat in my mind. It’s like saving an introduction to the murderer until the last five pages. Can we afford to let these literary extensions of our own emotional ups and downs call the shots?
Thus, I say to authors, stay in the driver’s seat. Give your characters your heart and wisdom, perhaps you can allow them to show how you lived through another of life’s little adventures, but you should decide which road to take. Have I convinced you?
4 thoughts on “Who’s drivin’ here?”
I agree with you for the most part, however there are times when your characters might know a little better than you. I like writing an outline for my stories first sometimes, and in that outline in one case I had written two characters to potentially like each other, but when I started writing my novel out my characters knew better than I did that they had absutely no chemistry. So that was one of those situations where I listened to the characters instead of having them do what I wanted them to do.
Good point Kati. I think the closest I’ve come to letting my character say ‘no’ to me was when I created a character based on a crush … yes, a crush, I know … but by the time the character was fleshed out I knew that he wasn’t going to click with my protagonist.
Outlines. Ah, the all seeing outine. I used to dread those things, always thinking that they would stifle the creative process. But, I admit that I have come to appreciate them, maybe even to like them.
Thanks for commenting Kati.
Sometimes I joke that my characters weren’t ready to be quiet when I wanted them to. What I really mean is that I discovered that there was more to their story than I originally thought. I found that making the changes that “they” wanted ultimately made the story better.
Most of the time I tell my characters what to do. Sometimes they do take over, and become people quite different from what I first intended. That certainly happened with Derry, who started out as a very minor character–but I think Homecoming is the better for him. And I had one character in a WIP that gave me all kinds of problems until it occurred to me to change the sex of that character–after which everything began to fall into place.