Hello Writer, and welcome back to my life.
It’s Writer Wednesday, where I give you my best tips and advice on the art and the business of writing and tell you how I do what I do as an indie author.
As always, these questions come from my $5 patrons on Patreon, and today’s question comes to us from patron Gerald Hornsby, who asks:
Do your characters tell YOU the story? Who controls them, anyway?
So, a lot of writers claim to be controlled by their characters, or at least to be sort of “forced into” decisions by their characters.
I, uh…I don’t buy it.
As with any piece of writing advice, we have to see how this could help or how it could hold you back.
And in my own personal experience, which I will acknowledge might not necessarily be universal, you are the one who puts the words into your manuscript.
You create the character. You create the world in which the character exists, and you create the story that takes place in that world. If I sat and waited for my characters to tell me stories, there would be no books of Underrealm.
I put the idea that "Characters tell YOU the story” in the same advice box as the idea that "You have to wait for inspiration to write”.
If that’s how someone prefers to write, and they actually WRITE, and they create good art that way, power to them, I guess. But I haven’t personally come across anyone for whom it was viable advice that helped them build a career.
Like I talked about in last week’s video, I’m more interested in advice that helps you take control of your writing, that puts you in charge.
Even if we accept the premise that the character can influence the author and dictate the terms of their own emotional journey, the fact remains: the author created the character in the first place.
Listen, again: if your characters tell you what needs to happen in their story, and that results in a finished, good book at the end, great. But from my perspective, you’re still the one who created the character, so it all comes back down to you in the end.
Now, there is one part of the process where I find this “character autonomy” viewpoint to be helpful, or rather, to open the door to a helpful frame of mind.
As I’ve said before, I always start creating my stories by coming up with the characters, and then I come up with a plotline that will take those characters on a satisfying emotional journey.
The first thing I do is spend a good long time defining my characters, their motivations, their backstories, and what makes them tick.
Now, sometimes, when I’m then plotting out or writing the story, I’ll make a mistake and try to make the character do something that’s out of…well, out of character. I usually spot this either sometime during the outlining process, or during the first draft phase.
(Or, in the case of Darkfire, my beta readers will spot it after the second or third draft, but you get the point.)
When that happens, you have to either fix the plot so that it carries out a sequence of actions that your character would actually go through, or you have to determine what your character WOULD do in the situation, and build your plot forward from there.
Yeah, I guess you could look at this as your character “telling you” the story, but again: you created the character, and you created the broken plot, too.
I understand why some writers are attracted to the idea that their characters become actual people who have minds and agency of their own. It’s an attractive idea. But I don’t know that it’s a useful one.
If you’re in control of your character, then when something isn’t working with them, you’re able to fix it.
And that’s a lot better than sitting around waiting for a fictional character to solve your problem for you.
That’s all I’ve got for you today, Writer. Thanks again to Gerald for this week’s question. I hope you and others found the answer helpful.
A reminder that my five dollar Patreon patrons like Gerald get these videos two weeks in advance, plus they’re the only ones who can ask questions for me to cover in the series. If you want to become one of those awesome and incredibly attractive people, I really appreciate the support.
Thank you so much for watching, and I will see you next Wednesday.