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?