Sunday, November 16, 2008

You Have To Listen To Your Characters...

For the record, I thought the idea of listening to your characters, and doing what they dictate - was total and utter crap. I am the writer, they are my creations, they are not voices in my head - I call the shots. Me. Writer. (How do you like the punctuation in that last sentence? Seriously, I need to get learn some basic rules.)

Anyway - characters not in control. I am. And then I started working on my new WIP.

I wrote a really, really, really detailed synopsis for my next series. Chapter by chapter. Putting my money where my mouth is in terms of trying to do more work up front, rather than editing (which I now believe is just a totally imperfect way to make your book better in a big, substantial way.) Anyway - detailed synopsis in which I had my characters doing the deed in chapter 5. It really really worked for me at that stage. I had the characters roughed out, their motivations were right there. Conflict accounted for. Sex, Chapter 5 was going to be awesome.

And then I started writing. And these characters didn't radically change - they just got better, more human, fully formed. Savannah was more guarded, more cautious about everything because of her past and Matt was less wounded and more conniving in the front half of the book. So, when I had them going at it in Chapter 5 - it did not work. No one believed it. Savannah, as I had written her, would not have gone so far. And Matt as I had written him came off like one big a-hole.

I knew it wasn't working, but the sex was in my synopsis. The synopsis I sweat over. The synopsis was king. So, I tweaked, I edited, I got angry with my critique partners when they suggested perhaps the synopsis was wrong.

But in the end I had to listen to the characters. And I realized, sex in the books I write and most of the books I read isn't about sex, but about being vulnerable in some way. And I had to figure out how to make them vulnerable without the sex. The result, because I listened to the characters (and my critique group) is much more effective.

Which, I think goes to show, all that work up front isn't perfect either. But it's better in terms of getting a head start on characters and plot. But the writing and our process has to be fluid and we have to be ready to adapt what's on the page to better fit what's in our head, even if that means sacrificing a scene we love, or a plot point that works in theory but not on paper.

Or, remarkably, after all these years, finally listening to our characters.

5 comments:

Ryshia Kennie said...

I'm impressed about the synopsis. I always do that last because it's my least favorite thing to do. But the characters leading the show - mine always have. I get impatient waiting for them to move in because they always do.

Kimber Chin said...

I do a chapter by chapter outline.
Then my characters decide to do something entirely different while I'm writing.
(Sigh)
But I DO know if I don't start with the outline, I end up with garbage.
I don't understand it.
Maybe while writing the outline,
I get to know my characters better?
I don't know.

BTW Molly... LOVE the cover of your latest! It immediately drew my eye.

Sinead M said...

I've tried in the past,when I knew a lot less to do a very detailed chapter by chapter outline. And it was hard, and in the end didn't work for me.
But I'm definitely trying it again for the next book and seeing where that takes me.
But sometimes, the character you write, isn't completely the character you had in your head when you first thought of the book.

Maureen McGowan said...

I think you nailed why neither plotting nor pantsing works alone -- particularly for the character development stuff i.e. the romance.

Stephanie Doyle said...

Just had one of those moments this morning with the WIP. I'm writing this scene and thinking about the next few chapters and what I'm doing with my bad guy.

So in my head I'm like - bad guy... where are you? What are you doing next? Only he didn't answer.

And it wasn't until that moment that I realized (subconciously) I had killed him off.

I love those moments! I'm in my office at home going... "Get the F out - you're dead?" And Edward killed you? That's great!"

This is such a wierd job.

Steph

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