Thursday, February 23, 2012

Why won't my characters behave? -- writing tip

Question: I wrote an outline. I know my story inside and out. But the characters keep going off and doing something else. What am I doing wrong?

Answer: The good news is, in writing there's no wrong way to do it. However works best for you, is the Right Way. There are two kinds of writers. Those who plan everything. And those who work on instinct. Most writers have a bit of both. For myself, I am never able to plan everything, though I taught thousands of students that outlining is a MUST, because that was in the curriculum I was hired to teach.

In the beginning I wrote lots of outlines. Then my characters, like yours, had minds of their own. Finally, I gave up trying to outline everything and settled for knowing where the story began and how it ended, then wrote my way, scent-by-scene, until I got there.

In my novel, GHOST DANCER, a New York debutante travels west for her health and meets a Medicine Man. The main character’s sister was used only as a impetus to get her to travel west. I had no plans for Elaine to be in the BOOK at all. She was a catalyst to get her sister on the road west, nothing more.

To my surprise Elaine walked into a scene in Montana, saying she'd had a "perfectly horrible trip." I started over. She came in again and refused to leave. I gave up and wrote a whole other scene. But Elaine wouldn't let me rest. She insisted on arriving, meeting the hero with some trepidation, and immersing herself in a steam-heated bath in the train's private car.

Later, I figured out that I needed Elaine badly to take over some action that would have made my main character look like a nitwit. But Elaine knew that all along. That’s why she kept showing up and making a nuisiance/fool of herself.

Trust your instinct. Give your characters room to take over. When they do, they may have a better story in mind that you could imagine.

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