While flying back home from a major trade show, I was commenting on how tense I was getting because I hadn’t written yet. Before the break up I was writing a good 500 words a day. Since the break up I’ve been writing like a possessed man, delving into fantasy creation after creation for 1000 words or more a day. When Joel and I spoke on this further, I realized I already wrote around a thousand words today. It will be another obvious break up story, though I haven’t quite decided if I will finish it this weekend or let some emotions cool.
So I commented I really liked to escape into the fantasy worlds I created, to explore them fully. They were just immensely preferable to the reality of my life right now, and I really would like to get published: I hear money solves everything and can buy love. My friend said it gave me control over events. I mauled this over a while, but I don’t generally write to control the action. At the very least, I’ve kept my control pieces to myself because they’re generally poorly written obsessive fantasies that could land me in jail. When I wrote that way for fun and not to vent, the writing just became crap. Joel and I proceeded to discuss at length (the ten minutes until the plane landed) control verse creation, or the life of what we create.
I admit to controlling the initial process. To an extent, you have to. By forcing people and places onto paper, by controlling the foundation, you create something. But then what happens? When I was younger, I would dictate everything the characters did. The events existed on a sheet of paper, and God help the character who got in my way. People and places were forced to my vision, whether they liked it or not. More often than not, they loathed me for it. My stories went astray. Characters would become brainwashed drones and do as I said for a scene or two, breaking away from what they would normally do. The story was intact, but it had no pulse or soul.
This is more evident with table top role playing. When the players start creating their own story, many GMs take that as an offense, seeing players as derelicts of the natural order. The plot is shoved down the players’ throats, and they aren’t given options. It steals the life from the game. Many players won’t stand for this. The game becomes boring as free will is nearlynstripped away. The game gets boring, and no one wants to play. Everything has already been determined, so who cares?
I get that this is an exaggeration as the characters really are individual people, but don’t all creative types have little voices in their head, characters commanding them on how the story will progress? Before you assume I’m crazy, let me explain. When a character is first created, they are ill defined. Is it a man or woman? Are they children or middle aged? Can they use a weapon, or are they silver tongued? We might even give them an archetype or role within the story. This is forced and controlled. Like Doctor Frankenstein, without the vision to put the pieces together, there can be no life. But then lightning strikes.
When the foundation exists, when the character goes through trials, the character fills in the gaps and becomes more than the writer could ever make: they become real people. Maybe there are authors who disagree, but I bet J. K. Rowling feels Harry is real, and as she wrote she felt for his struggles. She has roamed the cloisters and yards of Hogwarts (not just on set) because they are real to her. Harry is real to all those people who read the book. That doesn’t happen if he is forced to learn through a set of plot arcs, though no doubt there was a plan for his trials and growth. This feeling that someone is real happens when the character is allowed the reigns and takes control of their destiny.
I feel good writing is like that. I know my writing is. Melna, my current main character, has a purpose to fulfill. I know how she needs to grow and where she needs to end up. However, things change. She was supposed to be idolized by her brother. As he became more than a random name, the two were really heavy sibling rivals. They fought over everything because of his jealousy that he wasn’t as strong as Melna. She was supposed to have only one crush, but when her best friend didn’t die in the woods as planned, she gets into a marriage she never should have (this may have also been emotionally triggered as it was decided shortly after my own love loss). However, it also works entirely towards what I needed for Melna to experience for her to be the person she would one day become.
What I’m trying to get at is let your characters live. Let them take up residency in your skull. Melna is my strength as I admire what she has gone through and will do. I may know the trials, but in the end she will let me know how she responds. I have characters which have inspired me in love, loss, endurance, mercy, and numerous other traits. I may have laid the foundation for each of these traits, but once that foundation was put in place, all I had to do was write their words. Understand your story isn’t perfect. Understand your characters. If you know them, they’ll talk to you and the story will be a much more life altering experience for both you and the reader. The characters will make it perfect for you.
Quote of the day while on Southwest airline: “If you have children, please place your oxygen mask on first. Then find the child with the most potential and work your way down.” (Love this airline)