Monday, May 16, 2016

When Characters Steal Your Story

My goal for yesterday was to put a thousand words on the page of my brand-new work-in-progress. I knew exactly how it was going to go down: My anti-hero was going to say, “All right, let’s plan this out.” And then everyone was going to make a plan to break into a secret lab in Hong Kong.

Team building! Fun conversation! Easy lines! It was going to be a simple, easily orchestrated scene. SIMPLE. EASY. And then my anti-hero sneered at me, and instead of saying the lines I had planned for her, she opened her stupid mouth and said, “I need some time alone.”

I was hurt and confused. I had done everything correctly. I was even wearing my Superpowered Writer Headbands and my fuzzy socks. My library was lit by candlelight and my new book playlist was blasting from my speakers. Yet, all I could do was watch as that story-stealing hag tossed her dreadlocks, reminded me that Hong Kong was still flooded, and waved me out of the room.

That…that b*tch. Well, I thought, two can play at this game. She completely ruined my story, so I taught her a lesson. I left her alone and wrote a hugely revealing, emotional scene that wasn’t supposed to happen for three more chapters. HA! TAKE THAT, YOU JERK.

I know what you’re thinking: “Michelle. She is pretend. P-R-E-T-E-N-D. You are the writer! You do what you want!” To that I say, “No, I really don’t.”

In truth, that character knows my book better than I do. Actually, she probably knows my entire creative psyche better than me. Her character is the product of everything that fascinates me about Moriarty and Sherlock, Henri Michaux and Captain Nemo. Who am I to try to force a sociopath to do what I think is best? Seriously. Have you ever tried to reason with someone like Captain Nemo? It’s impossible. This means that when a main character veers off my plan, I tend to follow. 

Whenever my characters in my first drafts steal the story I have planned and replace it with something else, I ask myself one question: “Did it happen because I’m avoiding a difficult scene, or because this is the right way to go?” If I’m avoiding a tricky scene, I delete the bunny trail, tighten my Superpowered Writer Headbands, and wade into the murky, uncertain waters at my feet. The story is more organic that way, and in my experience, the end result of going with the flow is far better than anything I outline.

I’m weird like that.

Michelle outlines, but rarely before she’s at the end of Draft 1 or working on Draft 2. You can find her here on Mondays or on Twitter as @redactionaire almost every other day of the week.  

p.s. that goal of a thousand words? Yeah, I hit 3,000. Woot! 

1 comment:

  1. I’ve always wondered if other writers have had this happen. The story that unfolds is usually different from the one I intended; often it is a much better story. I like to imagine that there is some impish homunculus that resides somewhere between the brain and my fingers, plucking nerves like some rogue puppeteer.