Monday, September 28, 2015

“The Characters Take Over”

Many authors say when they start to write a story that the characters take over and dictate what happens. When I first started writing, I thought that sounded ridiculous. I knew what I wanted to write. I even had the last chapter or last paragraph worked out in my mind for many of those stories.

But lo and behold, when I look back on many of my stories, the saying seems to be true. Very seldom do I end up with the story I had in my mind. I don’t know how it happens. I create characters and think I know them but when I get inside their minds, something happens. They become real, living people and don’t act or react the way I thought they would.

One example of this is my short story Nicholas in my booklet The Doorbell Rang. Originally, I had intended for Nicholas to be a rather unlikable guy and my lead female character was going to kill him in the end. That didn’t happen at all. Whether Nicholas turned out to be a likable guy, only readers can decide. But the ending to that story was in my very humble opinion, the best I’ve ever written. In fact, the story I wrote (or rather the characters wrote) bore no resemblance to the story that circulated in my head for years.

In that same booklet, the three other stories also had twists and turns that I had not envisioned when I was planning them. The first story Margarita took root when I was in my twenties after living in Mexico for a couple of years. When I finally wrote it years later, Margarita herself completely fooled me as did characters I hadn’t imagined in the beginning. Over all, the story is one of my favorites out of all I’ve written.

In my first published romance novel, A Caribbean Summer, I daydreamed about that story for years, even before I went to the Caribbean where I lived for four years. Nothing in my life happened that resembled that daydream. But when I started to write it years later, again the characters became real with minds of their own. And I let them dictate to me what was happening.

In The Chameleon Chase I had the beginning worked out but not the rest of the story. Luckily, my characters took over and the book became one of my favorites.

This has happened over and over. But I feel lucky in that my characters seem to be smarter than I am and can create stories better than those in my head.


Unknown said...

From what I understand it happens to a lot of authors. In Cujo, (spoilers for a 34 year old book) Stephen King wanted the little boy to live. He said the book "died" every time he tried to force that, though.

Palmaltas said...

Very interesting, Unknown. I had not heard that about Stephen King's Cujo. Thank you for commenting.

Patricia Gligor said...

Great post, Pat.
I'm in the early stages of writing my fifth Malone mystery and I'm a plotter BIG TIME. So, I have a chapter-by-chapter outline before I actually write a word.
I have to laugh at how that outline changes as I write. While it does serve as a guideline, so many times, my characters seem to have different ideas about what will happen and when. To me, that's a good thing though because it means they're "real."

Palmaltas said...

Thank you, Patricia. I'm both a plotter and a pantser but even when I'm plotting, the characters tend to go in a different direction. I love your comment "that's a good thing because it means they're 'real'." Yes, they are real.

Marja said...

Yes, Pat, it truly amazes me how alive our characters become with time. Your characters come alive for me, too, which says a lot about your writing. Great post!
Marja McGraw

Palmaltas said...

Thank you so much, Marja. And likewise, your characters come not only alive but lively as well.