Monday, December 03, 2007

Wrangling Authors

So you have an unruly character, do you? Now you're completely stuck because they just refused to do as you told them?

Please excuse my confusion, because I don't have those kinds of unruly characters anymore. Even when I occasionally want to claim I have "uncooperative characters," I'm aware it's not the character that's at fault. It's me for not having done my job to get to know that character. Or I'm failing to trust that my characters know what they're doing.

The first step to overcoming "unruly characters" is taking responsibility for your work. You write. If you'd like to explain the bliss of hitting a groove and the magical flow of words as your "muse" or "characters behaving themselves," I'll understand. However, regardless of where you believe your ideas and inspirations come from it's your hands on the keyboard.

How many doctors do you know who would dare to say they blotched a surgery because their scalpels didn't feel like cooperating? Have you ever had a mechanic fail to fix your car because her wrench went on vacation?

If you "can't" write, you need to explore why. Don't just stop and blame the character or say your muse refuses to cooperate. What isn't working? Have you forgotten something—like the purpose of the scene? Is there a plot point you've overlooked? Have your characters developed differently? Is your pacing off?

Or is the problem not with the text, but with you? Are you tired? Have you over-worked your creativity and need to go refill the well? Or are you scared to write?

The next step to overcoming "unruly characters" is understanding you must never force a character to do anything. If your character won't do something, that's your subconscious going "hey, this is totally WRONG."

This is why you have to take responsibility for your work—you have to understand that you wrote it, so you know when something isn't working. Believe it or not, you also know how to "fix" it. Ask yourself why you're insisting the character does something. Are you choosing plot over character?

If you're committed to a plot point, you'll need to find a believable way to make the "new" behavior still bring about that event. However, you might need to come to grips with the fact that there's a possibility you're going to have to change your mind. What you thought had to happen may not work at all when you get to writing it.

Outlines are not the ten commandments, handed to you from God Almighty who will see to it you suffer eternal pain and torment should you fail to adhere to every minute detail. (Especially if you aren't working with an editor yet.) They are much more like instructions to build Ikea furniture. You've got these pieces, vague diagrams, and an Allen wrench. You could follow your outline to the letter, and still end up with a three-legged desk.

How? Simple. You allowed your preconception of who the character was to get in the way of who the character became. Remember when you wrote that outline? How you knew what happened next? You're ignoring that voice. (If you have to call it your muse, fine.) Let go and trust the writing. Trust yourself. You have to believe that you are strong enough to chronicle the adventures through your brave new world. If you don't have confidence in your writing, no one else will, either.

Finally, there are no rules when you write that first draft. Forget the outline. That was a sketch to get the basic shapes clear in your brain. You're painting now, baby, and nobody cares if you use Prussian Blue instead of Ultramarine.

You're the only who knows you didn't plan on using that color from the get go.


Karen Mahoney said...

Chandra, seriously, what a great post! I *love* this. Just what I needed to hear, and those last two paras really spoke to me, especially:

"You're painting now, baby, and nobody cares if you use Prussian Blue instead of Ultramarine."

Rachel said...

I agree! This was a great post, though the one that got me snickering was the bit about the pieces, the allen wrench and the vague diagrams.