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Tallymark
03-21-2007, 08:14 AM
So, in my time here at AW, I've read a lot of comments by people describing how the characters end up writing the story themselves. And I didn't really get it. People would be talking about how the characters would do and say things they didn't expect, things that totally surprised them, and I couldn't really see how that happened--sometimes I'd come up with a super-great idea and surprise myself with it, but the characters? I came up with the plot and the characters, they go together. I am their master. The story goes the way I want it to go. Yes, the characters motivations and actions should drive the plot, but I am the one who dictates those motivations.

Then, today, the female lead of my paranormal romance set a house on fire.

What? I go. Where did that come from?

And then the male lead chimes in to inform me that it's his fault, and that everything else is too, because he's just that important.

What? I go.

He is a minor deity, after all, he informs me.

WHAT?

And all the other dieties are out to get him, and--

What?! No! No! This isn't what I planned at all!

But it's what's supposed to happen, they told me.

...And, well, there you go. I don't think I can argue with that kind of logic. But damn, I hardly even know what genre I'm writing anymore! I think it's turning into a YA fantasy. I'm finding myself almost mad at the characters, because this isn't what I wanted to write, but on the other hand, I'm pleased at how clever they are. If that makes any sense. Part of me wants to snatch back the reigns and yank them all back into their places, but the story they seem to have come up with just makes so much sense that I don't think I can ignore it.

Do other people find themselves dealing with totally out-of-control characters? And how do you know when to restrain the characters and when to just throw up your hands and let them walk all over you? Do you usually try to force the plot back on track, or surrender to them?

BardSkye
03-21-2007, 10:25 AM
I just give 'em their heads and enjoy the ride. They may write you into a corner, but they may come up with something brilliant, too.

Isn't channelling for characters fun?:D

Julian Black
03-21-2007, 10:35 AM
I write from a detailed outline, so once I'm actually writing (instead of plotting) there isn't much for going off on tangents.

That doesn't mean I don't occasionally get an idea for a different development as I'm writing, but if I change one thing it affects everything that comes afterward. With a complicated, multi-layered plot, making those changes can be very difficult. They're not always worth the effort, either.

So I steer back on course and keep following the outline, but I do write down ideas I particularly like. If they're that good, I can always expand on them later and use them in another book.

MacAllister
03-21-2007, 10:39 AM
Julian! Nice to see you.

seun
03-21-2007, 01:15 PM
I tell the characters what I think should happen. They usually go along with that to a point. Then they gently remind me they're in charge. After that, it's up to them.

TrickyFiction
03-21-2007, 01:43 PM
Oh, I love when that happens! I enjoy surprises, so long as they aren't horribly unpleasant. Something similar happened to me a couple years ago with a character who was supposed to be a catalyst. She wanted to be God. It was fun to toy with, but of course, I'm gong to have to cut her off in the rewrite.

I think you have to have fun with characters sometimes, just to get to know them better, you know? Sit and have coffee with them, joke around with them, let them play God for awhile. Then, cut and trim. If it doesn't take up too much of your time, at least you'll have a firm grasp on what kind of personalities these... personalities have. :)

seun
03-21-2007, 02:14 PM
Just do what the voices tell you to...

LeslieB
03-21-2007, 03:07 PM
I work from an outline too, but sometimes you can't argue with the characters. I once had a lovely love triangle scripted out, when one of the guys involved announced he was gay. It made it impossible to go with my original plans, because the characters were fighting me tooth and nail. Writing around it was challenging, but in the end I think the story was stronger for it.

Ol' Fashioned Girl
03-21-2007, 03:43 PM
I tried desperately once - and only once! - to make my female MC do something I wanted her to do. She curtly informed me that she would never, ever, ever, ever do what I had had her do. I ignored her and wrote happily on... she never shut up about it.

And she eventually won... to the betterment of the story.

Now I always listen to my characters. :)

ChaosTitan
03-21-2007, 04:53 PM
I've also learned to just let the characters do what they want (within reason). If one decides to do something completely unexpected, I usually mull over the potential fallout for a few minutes before proceeding. Often it works out great. I've yet to encounter a character twist that has ruined the story or not worked out.

In the no-longer-a-WIP, I originally intended for a specific character to be a wolf in sheep's clothing. Then he went and did something noble and decided he was a good guy, after all. It worked out great for the story (and the character is now a favorite of my early reader), and someone else became the needed wolf.*

It's great when our own imaginations surprise us, isn't it?



*Figurative wolves, I'm not writing about were-critters. ;)

C.bronco
03-21-2007, 05:12 PM
Do other people find themselves dealing with totally out-of-control characters? And how do you know when to restrain the characters and when to just throw up your hands and let them walk all over you? Do you usually try to force the plot back on track, or surrender to them?
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Yes, yes. And it's the early stages of multiple personality disorder, but block that thought from your mind; your other personalities will take care of it.
LOL, That's one of my favorite parts about writing fiction.
You've created a world and peopled it! Now they must do what they are driven to do. Just go with it! You can be the Deux ex Machina from time to time, and let your little people run amok.

WildScribe
03-21-2007, 05:17 PM
My character was supposed to break up with her abusive boyfriend at the climax of my WIP... then halfway through he tried to rape her and she not only threw him out, she moved away to escape him. THAT sure wasn't what I intended!

jodiodi
03-21-2007, 05:18 PM
It happens to me all the time. I never consciously come up with a plot or characters--they're simply waiting for me when I come downstairs, sitting on the futon in the command center, playing the playstation, then look up at me and say, "Hey. Guess what happened to us! Write this down." Then they tell me their story, showing it to me as I type, and there are plenty of times a character will up and shock the hell out of me. I had no idea one of my characters was in love with my heroine (even though she's married to his cousin) until one day I was writing along and he suddenly said something about how much he loved her but could never tell her. It turned into a great triangle.

Just trust them.

veinglory
03-21-2007, 05:34 PM
Um, it is figurative speaking not literal. Complex ideas have emergent properties (insert vague hand-waving and allusions to chaos theory and consciousness). When you have an idea that leads to another and another you end up somewhere that you may not have foreseen when having the first idea. Because the characters the a continuous element of all of the ideas it can seem like they are the agent of this in an informal sort of way. But it all, obviously, happens inside the writer's brain and is caused by them.

Troo
03-21-2007, 05:51 PM
I've never been able to write in any other way but channelling.


But then, I am barking mad...

janetbellinger
03-21-2007, 06:01 PM
My characters sometimes get out of control too. However, I always remember that just because my character is writing the story doesn't mean she is writing a good story. Sometimes my characters do cliched things or are overly dramatic. I can't just let them go ahead and spout off on me, perhaps something that has been said many times before. That's where editing comes in, when you decide just how brilliant your character really is.

Pagey's_Girl
03-21-2007, 06:03 PM
I'm glad I'm not the only one who's ruled by her muses. My favorite female MC was originally supposed to be with someone else, but another character I was trying to come up with a love interest for ran off with her heart when I wasn't looking.

And of course they're perfect for each other - I look at the earlier stuff I wrote with her and the other guy and wonder what I was thinking.

[Shameless plug] Here they are in action: http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=57750 [/shameless plug]

Azure Skye
03-21-2007, 06:08 PM
It's fun when that happens but I have to agree with Janet. Let it happen for now and see what it looks like when you edit.

tjwriter
03-21-2007, 06:13 PM
It happens. I laughed the first time it happened to me, which was the other day. My widower thief decided that some sexual tension with the bard princess would be good.

You know, whatever.

Here's a link to something funny between the author and the character. It's a tad old, but well worth the laugh even if you've read it before.

http://zette.blogspot.com/2005/10/author-versus-character.html

Namatu
03-21-2007, 06:20 PM
Because the characters the a continuous element of all of the ideas it can seem like they are the agent of this in an informal sort of way. But it all, obviously, happens inside the writer's brain and is caused by them.
The brain is such a fascinating place, and I appreciate that it gives us the illusion that "my characters made me do it."

One of my characters is a good,well-behaved, and meek woman. As I continue to revise the manuscript, however, she's developed quite the interesting history and is actually much more powerful and suprising than I ever would have consciously planned for her. She's become, for me right now, the most interesting character in my story. And she's not even the MC. The best developments in my stories are those that develop as I write, which is why I generally refuse to do more than the most cursory of outlines. With a detailed outline, I write from point A to point B and no surprises crop up. The characters don't do unexpected things. It lacks a certain something. When I go into a story with only vague ideas, everyone seems to have a lot more fun.

maestrowork
03-21-2007, 06:23 PM
There are plot-driven stories, and there are character-driven stories. With the latter, you have more of a chance of letting your well-developed characters drive the plot. With the former, it's not unusual that you're just putting the "right" characters to move things along -- in the case, you create everything, and the characters are just chess pieces.

Or you can have something in between: a character-driven story that is guided by a plot structure.

Claudia Gray
03-21-2007, 06:36 PM
I work from outlines, so usually the characters have "announced" themselves before I begin the writing process in earnest. During that outlining process, though, there have definitely been some surprises.

Jamesaritchie
03-21-2007, 07:04 PM
I believe the writer is always in control, but if you want characters to behave as real people, you can't make them behave as you would have them behave. They must be allowed to do whatever it is their unique personalities would have them do.

I detest most outlined fiction because I can always see the writer's hand guiding everything that happens, and it usually bores me to death, especially since I almost always see the ending by the end of chapter one. I believe the main reason for this is that the writer sits down and says "This character will do this, then this character will do that."

The writer is in control, but this should not mean the writer treats characters like puppets. Good characters cannot be ordered around by the writer. Nor can a good plot.

L M Ashton
03-21-2007, 07:12 PM
What Julian and Claudia said for me.

I write from a very detailed outline. With my lack of memory issues, it's the only way I can write and trust that it'll be the least bit logical or coherent. But in the process of doing the detailed outline, I've spent a LOT of time on character development, world building, and the like, so they've had plenty of time to pipe in with their opinions on things.

maestrowork
03-21-2007, 07:14 PM
To me, the writer is in control only in things he can control: tone, voice, details, and what he or she should report and observe. But the writer shouldn't control the characters -- they do what they do as if they were real people. All you can do is control the environment in which they live -- throw them in a situation you create, and see how they swim or sink.

maestrowork
03-21-2007, 07:15 PM
What Julian and Claudia said for me.

I write from a very detailed outline. With my lack of memory issues, it's the only way I can write and trust that it'll be the least bit logical or coherent. But in the process of doing the detailed outline, I've spent a LOT of time on character development, world building, and the like, so they've had plenty of time to pipe in with their opinions on things.

Sounds like that's actually your "first" draft, or alpha draft.

C.bronco
03-21-2007, 07:18 PM
Though my work is more plot-driven, my characters developed in their own unique ways, often to my surprise. I like being surprised by other things in my writing- allusions I didn't realize I made when writing,etc.
After re-reading my last, I realized that two of my most formidible and strong characters were women over 50 (even though my teen MC& principal adult character are male).

Maprilynne
03-21-2007, 07:39 PM
I remember when one of my heroine's jumped in bed with the villain. I was like, "Noooooo!!! What are you doing!!" It ended up being a huge part of the book. And SO important. I'm glad she knew what she was doing.:)

Chumplet
03-21-2007, 08:07 PM
I had a villian disappear over a cliff and I thought he was gone. I turned around and he was back! He'd been lurking in the jungle, going craaaaazy!

I also had a female antagonist suddenly decide to play a cruel practical joke on her ex-boyfriend, having him arrested and fingerprinted for cocaine possession, and it turned out all he had was flour. He can be such a dum dum sometimes.

MidnightMuse
03-21-2007, 08:50 PM
I love when my characters start surprising me. My stories are always character driven with plot to hold onto. I like to know them intimately before I start, but that doesn't take long - a day or two of mulling them over and I can get going. Then it's fun to watch them grow, develop and change as the plot thickens. Sometimes it's a real surprise how they grow, and how they react to stress.

Until you give life to your characters, you don't know what they're going to do. Once you do give life to your characters, the story you're writing becomes more entertaining and surprising with each page.

I love that :)

Pagey's_Girl
03-21-2007, 09:09 PM
I have to say, my favorite female MC changed for the better after running off with the guy who was supposed to be a minor character in her wedding story. I didn't realize how submissive and insecure she was initially.

Cathy C
03-21-2007, 11:23 PM
The writer is in control, but this should not mean the writer treats characters like puppets. Good characters cannot be ordered around by the writer. Nor can a good plot.

I'm afraid I'm the exception to this rule. I do indeed treat all my characters as puppets. For me, the plot rules and the characters are malleable. If I need for the hero to do X, and their background/personality won't allow that chess move, then out goes the background and personality until the move can be made. I guess I prefer checkers to chess, when it comes down to it. King me... :D

jodiodi
03-22-2007, 01:09 AM
Um, it is figurative speaking not literal. Complex ideas have emergent properties (insert vague hand-waving and allusions to chaos theory and consciousness). When you have an idea that leads to another and another you end up somewhere that you may not have foreseen when having the first idea. Because the characters the a continuous element of all of the ideas it can seem like they are the agent of this in an informal sort of way. But it all, obviously, happens inside the writer's brain and is caused by them.

Aww! You mean I don't really have a couple of devastatingly handsome incubi eating Krispy-Kreme donuts with my immortal warrior-prince down in the basement? Rats. Here, I was thinking everyone could see them besides me.:cry:

Rhea L
03-22-2007, 02:25 AM
Ah, but when they take over, it's when you know you have some living, breathing people running around tugging at your plot-threads. And my, isn't that an absolutely wonderful feeling. ;)

Well, scary, too - as someone above said, they can write you into a corner. But they can also take you places you never thought about before, and probably wouldn't have, had the characters guiding you been different.

"Trust the story, trust the characters" is my mantra. :P For a good reason - when I do that, the story becomes all the better for it. I've never regretted not knowing in advance where I'm going. I might have a vague idea of the ending, but even that usually changes as I make my way through the story.

In fact, the only time stories ever died on me was when I tried detailed outlines. My characters, it seems, like playing their cards close to the vest, and have declared outlines to be right there on top of their black list... :D

maestrowork
03-22-2007, 02:27 AM
I'm afraid I'm the exception to this rule. I do indeed treat all my characters as puppets. For me, the plot rules and the characters are malleable. If I need for the hero to do X, and their background/personality won't allow that chess move, then out goes the background and personality until the move can be made. I guess I prefer checkers to chess, when it comes down to it. King me... :D

That takes a lot of confidence in yourself as a writer to know exactly how things should be and who your characters are and what they would do without coming across as manufactured. If it works for you, kudos.

For me, my characters just pull me along. I am constantly surprised by the things they do, and they make more sense than I do. I love it.

L M Ashton
03-22-2007, 06:10 AM
Sounds like that's actually your "first" draft, or alpha draft.Not to me. It's just a detailed outline. Of course, since I have no idea what your first or alpha draft looks like, it could be that they're the same once we get past the labels. *shrugs*

All I know is that it works for me, at least for now, and really, that's the bottom line.

jodiodi
03-22-2007, 08:01 AM
I have to admit that I'm just not a fan of how writers tend to (overly?) romanticize the job. I suppose it could be fun to talk about muses and living characters, etc, but it's just not for me.

Wow, I'm no fun ;)

As far as I know, I've never had a 'muse' or seen a 'plot bunny' (I despise that term--makes me picture dust bunnies attacking). I just have characters in my head. Perhaps it's a sign of MPD, perhaps I just have a vivid imagination. Not sure which. Maybe both.:crazy:

Troo
03-22-2007, 02:55 PM
I have to admit that I'm just not a fan of how writers tend to (overly?) romanticize the job. I suppose it could be fun to talk about muses and living characters, etc, but it's just not for me.


Try it. You might like it :D

Birol
03-22-2007, 03:07 PM
I don't think it's a matter of over-romanticizing the job, but trying to put into words that others can comprehend how we experience the creative process. It's a matter of how the brain is being accessed and used.

I have a good friend that I've known for fifteen years now. He's studied Electrical Engineering and mathematics. Early in our friendship, I was watching him work out some complicated formulas in his head. He was using his finger and writing in the air. When he finished, I asked him, "You see a blackboard hovering in front of you, don't you?"

He looked surprised, then answered in the affirmative. Yes, he did "see" a blackboard about a foot in front of his face.

He wasn't romanticizing numbers or math. It was just how he worked, how his brain functioned.

maestrowork
03-22-2007, 03:33 PM
Very interesting how the brain works. For me, it's very visual -- things just appear to me in sights and sounds. I don't see words at all. When it comes time to put words on paper, in some way I'm able to translate these images into verbal form. Don't ask me how -- I just do. And that's something I can teach or ask someone else to do. We all need to find our own processes, and what fit us.

jodiodi
03-22-2007, 05:22 PM
That's kinda how I 'see' my characters and story. It's like once they start telling me, a movie starts running in my head and I 'see' everything that's happening. Then I write what I see, smell, hear, taste, feel, think, through the characters.

seun
03-22-2007, 05:37 PM
That takes a lot of confidence in yourself as a writer to know exactly how things should be and who your characters are and what they would do without coming across as manufactured. If it works for you, kudos.

For me, my characters just pull me along. I am constantly surprised by the things they do, and they make more sense than I do. I love it.

Mine do the same. They're much more interesting than any plans I start with.

Namatu
03-22-2007, 05:45 PM
Very interesting how the brain works. For me, it's very visual -- things just appear to me in sights and sounds. I don't see words at all. When it comes time to put words on paper, in some way I'm able to translate these images into verbal form. Don't ask me how -- I just do. And that's something I can teach or ask someone else to do. We all need to find our own processes, and what fit us.

I was experiencing the same thing yesterday, thinking of a new scene, but unable to write anything down at the moment. The words were on the tip of my brain, but refused to fall. I've found that once I create the vision through words, regardless of whether or not I've written those words down, the vision begins to fade. It's been birthed. Later efforts to recreate the experience never attain the same quality as the original.

Troo
03-22-2007, 06:41 PM
He looked surprised, then answered in the affirmative. Yes, he did "see" a blackboard about a foot in front of his face.

He wasn't romanticizing numbers or math. It was just how he worked, how his brain functioned.

And besides, nowadays he sees Visio diagrams in the air :D

I'm terrible when it comes to I.T. I struggle to visualise in this way, and work best with an actual whiteboard so that I can lay out my networking diagram, note things like IP addresses and subnet masks on it, then figure out where it's going wrong. But with writing, I do things the Maestro way: Once I get started I'm not even conscious of the fact that I'm typing.

Alas a typo will drag me out of it instantly. I find it impossible to leave it and continue. I HAVE to fix it, just in case Word turns it into a totally unrelated word, and my sentence means something altogether different when I come back to proof-read it.

"What the hell? Since when did he "wade" into town on his horse?!"

TrainofThought
03-22-2007, 07:51 PM
So, in my time here at AW, I've read a lot of comments by people describing how the characters end up writing the story themselves. And I didn't really get it. People would be talking about how the characters would do and say things they didn't expect, things that totally surprised them, and I couldn't really see how that happened--sometimes I'd come up with a super-great idea and surprise myself with it, but the characters?...

Do other people find themselves dealing with totally out-of-control characters? And how do you know when to restrain the characters and when to just throw up your hands and let them walk all over you? Do you usually try to force the plot back on track, or surrender to them?In my opinion, I donít believe in the idea that characters write themselves. When you dedicate thought and time to a story, a part of you, your subconscious is in the background altering the blueprints. You're conscious of the writing (expectations), yet your subconscious is changing the plot, characters and conflict. Just my take on it.

Julian Black
03-22-2007, 09:41 PM
Julian! Nice to see you.Hi, Mac! [waves] It's nice to be back!

Although I do follow an outline when I get to the actual writing, I'm still a character-driven writer. Everything I write starts with at least one compelling character who just shows up one day and says, "Hi! I'm here to be in your next project." Other characters follow.

I let them be as unruly as they need to be while I'm plotting. I scribble little bits of their stories on 3x5 cards, shuffle them around, rearrange them, and throw them away as the characters change their minds. Eventually, everyone figures out what they need to do, and I end up with a plot. When they all settle down, and several nights go by with nobody waking me up at 4am to tell me they absolutely have to leave their spouse, or to tell me some crucial difference between themselves and every other vampire I've read about, or that they just aren't getting enough page time, I figure we're done. I can have the basics of a plot done in a day, but it takes weeks of talking to the people in my head before it's ready to be typed into an outline.

The plotting is where all the drama and fireworks takes place. The actual writing is a necessary evil, and I have a pretty workmanlike attitude toward it. Most of the time my characters don't bother me while I'm writing. I spend weeks in their company, then kick them out so I can get work done. If they were going to argue with me, they had plenty of chances during plotting.

Some of them might stop by to slip notes under my door to tell me they've found a better name, or that they want to be blonde instead of a redhead, or to point out that I've given them a house in the wrong part of town. That's okay, and usually they have a point. But there are others who want me to let them in so they can natter on about why they shouldn't drive off the bridge, or should possess greater magical powers, or how they really want to sleep with another character. No matter how often I say, "But that really screws up everything else," they won't shut up. So, just as I've learned to say "no" to people in real life who piss and moan and demand attention and change their minds endlessly, I've learned to do the same with the people in my head.

I used to follow along wherever characters took me, but always ended up at a dead end sooner or later. I ended up with too many half-finished stories that way, and it wasn't until I learned to rein in rogue characters that I actually started finishing things.

MMWyrm
03-22-2007, 09:54 PM
I'm a bit insane.

I completely accept that my characters are actually beings/people living their own lives in some magical ether world (or something figurative like that) and that I am just here to write down what they want me to.

I have had many dreams where my characters in my 1st book either sit down and explain things to me, or actually yell at me when I attempted to force them to do something that would fit the book but not who they were.

I'm serious. And yeah... a bit insane.

Namatu
03-22-2007, 10:46 PM
I have had many dreams where my characters in my 1st book either sit down and explain things to me, or actually yell at me when I attempted to force them to do something that would fit the book but not who they were.

That sounds fun! I used to sleepwalk, but never did any writing during it. That would have been great multitasking.

Cat Scratch
03-23-2007, 01:12 AM
I was just talking about this last night with some friends. There's a fine line between craft and inspiration. It takes inspiration to create a great story, but craft will make it work. I love it when my stories take me unexpected places and surprise me--I literally did not know what was going to happen in my last novel manuscript until the words hit the page, right down to The End. It was exciting to write, and I hope makes it exciting to read. But the first draft needed a lot of editing, including, sometimes, reigning in some of the things my characters did. It's all about knowing when to hold 'em and knowing when to fold 'em.

Mr. Fix
03-23-2007, 01:21 AM
I let my characters be in control, much like I let the 'day' be in control of my life.

I have a plan set out for the 'day' but as the 'day' unravels it seems to want to change my plans. So, do I fret and stomp my feet and complain when my 'day' doesn't goes as planned (well, maybe sometimes) but I sometimes like to see where the 'day' takes me.

The Undiscovered Country!

Adventure!

Its about the magic! Living the adventure, free your mind... and the rest will follow.

To boldly go where no one has gone before...

Tallymark
03-23-2007, 06:23 AM
I'm afraid I'm the exception to this rule. I do indeed treat all my characters as puppets. For me, the plot rules and the characters are malleable. If I need for the hero to do X, and their background/personality won't allow that chess move, then out goes the background and personality until the move can be made.

See, this is exactly how I always did things before, which is why this current story is surprising me so much. I'd have a general plot, and then come up with a character whose background made them perfect to fit it, and the plot and character would strengthen each other.

Which is why I'm just watching aghast as the characters are doing all kinds of crazy things right now, ripping my nice little plot to shreds. But y'know, it's kinda fun! :D I mean, of course (assuming I haven't suddenly developed a psychological condition) the characters aren't genuinely making the decision independent of my brain. But I can definately get to like the fact that my brain is treating it like they do. It's so good to hear that it's the same for so many other people!

It's like, I was the god of my novel universe, and I made all the rules--up until my hero decided he was a god too. XD