Last night I was clacking away on my keyboard, sure that I knew the direction my story was headed. Suddenly, one of my characters turned on me! When I created him, he was a nice side character. Apparently he even had me fooled. A little further on, and I actually gasped when one of my characters did something unexpected. In that case, it fit her personality, but I was surprised when it happened.
Cue the men in white coats.
I find it hard to explain to people my writing process. Not the procrastination part of it, but the actual story telling that happens. I always have a bare-bones idea of where I want my story to go. It’s never a straight line to get there though. There are pit stops and detours and backtracking. And the characters are constantly getting in the way of me telling the story as I initially plan it.
When I create a character in my mind, they become real to me. I think that’s why I become so emotionally invested in books. It’s different from a movie, because I can watch an actor and remember that he was in something else, that he is a real person with a real life beyond the character he is playing at the time. But in a book, the life the characters are living, the story I am creating for them, that is their story and their life. I know, again, I sound crazy. Or “cray cray,” as my nieces and nephew would put it.
And it doesn’t make sense. But I know my characters as much as they let me know them, which means the main character is usually an open book (no pun intended). I have a good idea of his or her intentions and motivations. But it’s those side characters that are really good at keeping things from me, hiding their motivations, because they are not as important to me. Just like in the story, they tend to be overlooked, even by myself, their creator. And that’s where they get me, because suddenly another facet of their personality is revealed, and I have to pay attention to them.
I was having a conversation with a friend last night and teasing her that one of the characters in my book may or may not end up being a bad guy. She told me that wasn’t possible, and I replied that anything is possible, because I am doing the writing and I do what I want. But she has talked to me enough about writing to know that is complete crap. I do the writing, yes, but I’ve found that when I try to force characters to do what I think they should do, instead of listening to them tell me what they’re going to do, the writing comes across as forced and unnatural. My friend knows this, and was pretty smug in her appraisal of the situation, and she was probably right. Hey, maybe he will be a bad guy…but it won’t be because I want him to be, it will be because that is who he is. Or isn’t. We’ll see.
I’m as excited as anyone else to find out what my characters will do next.