Writing Notes: Trust the Characters (ie, yourself)

I was going to blog about endings
because I expected to be working on the end of The Biker’s Wench
edits. I’m not there yet (don’t ask), so we’ll save that for
next week.

I’ve blogged about this before, but
it’s been a topic here and there lately, and while I think I have a
handle on it most of the time, yesterday I struggled with it all day
long in my head (which wasn’t an easy feat, considering I was
dealing with a rather trying day at the day job too).

I’m working on the second Fantasy
Ranch novel at the moment, and I wrote the first few chapters quite
awhile ago, then had to put them aside while I hashed out my little
fictional universe better by finishing the first book. I’ve been
posting the material I wrote earlier for my serial chapters, but this
week was the first week I needed to start writing new scenes. I’d
read through all the previous scenes, thought I had a handle on where
the story was going and what the main plot would be….

And then I started writing.

Normally, it doesn’t bother me much
when characters take over. I like it when that happens, even
if it’s way off track from where I saw the story heading, because
it’s always better when the story comes from the characters (ie, my
subconscious, creative brain). Always.

Anyways, in the story Betsy has just
been left alone with Ian, the man she wants, who has incredible
powers of resistance toward her and has just been more or less
ordered to keep her safe from the maniac who is after her. I went
into the scene thinking they needed to have a conversation where he’d
try to convince her she needed his protection, she’d tell him to go
jump off a cliff, they’d have a nice little argument and end up
with him either sleeping on her couch to protect her, or dragging her
off cave-man style (I like to leave my ending options open).

That is so not what happened.
You can read the scene here if you’d like, but the gist of it is
that instead of having a spectacular temper tantrum, Betsy ends up
telling Ian this fascinating story she’s never told anyone before
(because really, who would believe it? She knows that.), and implying
that there’s something in her past that is Really, Really Bad. So
bad she’d rather stay and put her life in danger than run and hide
and risk the maniac somehow stumbling across it by accident. So bad
she can’t even tell the guy she’s crushed on since they were kids
what the big secret is.

Oh, and she didn’t tell me either.

Normally, when a character starts
spilling huge secrets like this, I “get” where it’s going while
I’m writing, so I can sort of see how the story will meander along
a certain path. This time, Betsy was having none of it, and I fought
with her all day long about it (in my head. And yes, I refrained from
conversing out loud with her. Luckily my characters don’t break the
4th wall.). I wasn’t sure how I could possibly finish
the scene with this huge question mark that could possibly affect the
end of the whole story hanging unanswered, at least in my mind. What
if I went the wrong way? What if I wrote myself into a box? What if I
screwed up the frickin’ Happily Ever After (Nightmare of Epic
Proportions!!).

I stewed all afternoon as I worked the
day job, seriously annoyed that I was so stymied by this. I don’t
get blocked…I think because I work on so many different
stories it keeps my brain just flying automatically between them all.
But this wasn’t really a full-on block either. It was a crisis of
critical thinking.

I was thinking in critical mode,
worrying about points Q-Z when I should have been focusing only on
point B – the scene in front of me. So what if Betsy’s Really
Really Bad Thing gets her tossed in jail at the end. That just won’t
be the end – I’ll keep writing until I find it. I was thinking
about all these things about her secret that could affect the
story, rather than just writing it and having faith that things will
all work out.

Because they always do. As long as I
trust the characters and record their story as well as I can, I trust
they’ll get me to the HEA I need. Really, I just need to trust
myself, and that creative side of my brain that comes up with all
these stories.

Once I settled down and told Betsy to
“take it away”, she did. The final few sentences I’d been
struggling with just came right out, and while I still don’t know
exactly what it is that Betsy hid with the trunk, she assures me it’s
nothing like what I thought it might be. In fact, I sense a plot
twist coming later, but I have only a very vague idea of what it
might be. And I think it’s better this way, because if I can’t
intentionally foreshadow it, I can’t ruin it either by
over-thinking it.

You know what this means, don’t you?
My creative mind has finally out-witted my logical mind. Might want
to stand back. This could get messy if they decide to duke it out…

Do you trust your characters enough to
follow them down a rabbit hole, even when it feels like you might be
going the wrong way?


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8 comments on “Writing Notes: Trust the Characters (ie, yourself)

  1. Carol

    Characters can be such wonderful people – when they’re doing what you expect them to. But all too often my characters just flip me the bird and do what they want instead of what I want. It usually turns out they know what they’re doing, so in answer to your question, yes, I trust them enough to follow them down the rabbit hole.

  2. anne gallagher

    I generally follow my characters wherever they want to go. I’ve found it’s so much easier to listen to them and do what they want instead of fight them for what I want. They usually know what’s best.

  3. Jami Gold

    Oh boy, do I *ever* relate to this. 🙂

    My MC had a tiff with a minor character but refused to tell me what it was about. Finally, another character who had witnessed the event had to tell me what happened. 🙂 Yay, we can be insane together.

  4. Jamie D.

    It is annoying when they just head off without you, isn’t it? How rude!

    Worse that they’re normally right…

  5. Jamie D.

    It is easier not to fight. I think yesterday I just panicked – loss of control in other areas of my life spilling over into wanting absolute control of my characters, perhaps.

    Or maybe I was just being a rebellious writer. LOL

  6. Jamie D.

    LOL – Gossip on the virtual pages! Thank goodness the witness came forward, eh?

    No one’s insane around here – this is reality for us. And thank goodness for that…wouldn’t want it any other way. 

  7. Maryanne Fantalis

    One of my favorite writing moments ever was when my MC came into a room for a big reveal of a fact that only she knew: she had been raised by a man who thought she was his daughter, but she was really the biological child of someone else. I’m writing along, she drops her news, every character is in shock, and her (adoptive) father leans back, smiles gently and says, “I know.” I jumped out of my chair and shouted, “What do you mean, ‘I know’?!”

    It turned out to be a much better scene than I ever expected/planned/hoped.

    Love my characters. 🙂

  8. Jamie D.

    LOL – So cool when that happens! Bonus points if there was someone else in the room when you shot out of your chair…