Friday, October 9, 2015

Taken Over: When Your Characters Grab the Wheel

How do I feel when characters take a left when I very distinctly remember instructing them to go right?

I live for it. It's the reason I write. It means the characters and their story have escaped the confines of my tiny mind. Whether taken over by gods or demons or the spirits of the abyss, I neither know nor care. Except for the fact that it does happen. If my characters don't dig their heels in, glare at me and tell me I'm wrong, then the story has no life. It doesn't breathe on its own. And I shove it into the book graveyard - the box under the bed. Really. This is why there are monsters and a birthday Grumpy cat in my office. They remind me to leave room for the weird and unexpected.

This means I can't outline. Not the way our resident plotters do. I find I have to hold plot very loosely, ready to let it go at any second, otherwise, I strangle it. It's the strangest thing. I'd so LOVE to be able to outline a story and write it beginning to end without wondering where the hell I'm going and why. (and why are we in this hand basket?)

After some trial and error, I've come to find that I can't write from WHAT (what happens). I have to write from WHY. Why these characters? Why are they here? Why are they the way they are? There are a few whats in that, too. What do they want and why do they want it. What are their fears? Their beliefs? You've heard me talk about it before, but I'm gonna say it again. Break Into Fiction. This is a character motivation driven method of plotting. No claim that it's better than any other - only that it's the way that makes the most sense to me. It's detailed and drills down into stuff that would make just about anyone else other than me cry. (Go to the live workshops for Break Into Fiction and I guarantee you'll see someone cry before the weekend is up, though usually happy tears...mostly.)

I end up with thorough understanding of my characters -- where they start and where I need them to end up. I know where the book starts. I know the inciting incident (in fact, I generally know these prior to sitting down to work through the character templates).  After working through the templates, I usually know where the book ends and in general  what has to happen to make these people earn their HEA. If they get one.

But just for example, my first book, Enemy Within. I had that book plotted. 100%. I knew EXACTLY what was going to happen. I started NaNoWriMo that year full of great hope and grand ambition. I blew through 25k words in no time.

And then everything stopped.

November ended and I was still staring at my blinking cursor. Finally, after a week and a half of me twisting and turning and trying to make deals with an uncaring devil, one of the characters took pity upon me and whispered inside my head one night that the thing I thought was the ending wasn't the ending. It was the end of the first act. Oh! Well okay! Let's move that right on up here and look! I'm writing! Wait! That was my carefully laid plot...and it's gone. I didn't drift in the void for more than a day, however. That was the point at which the characters stepped forward and took the reins of their story.

Is it an efficient way to right? Ye gods and little fishes, no. But it is the way this whole process works for me. I hope it's tidier for you. But if it isn't, all I can suggest is that you breathe and leave some space in your plans for everything to go wonderfully sideways.

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