Saturday, June 9, 2012

Does Your Story Write Itself?

Writing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Writing stories, someone once said, is like raising a child. You, the author-parent, set out with dreams of where you want to story to go, what you want it to accomplish, who it's going to meet, and how it’s going to “turn out.”

But stories, like children, have minds of their own.

They take detours. They explore dangerous places. They bring home uninvited guests.

What’s a good author-parent to do?

I’m currently trying to figure this one out. Three-quarters of the way through the second revision of my novel-in-progess, The Power Club, a new character has entered the story.This character was in earlier drafts, but he just didn’t fit into this one, so he was omitted.

But, suddenly, there he is again.

By bringing back this uninvited guest, my story is starting to assert its independence.

Sometimes, this can be a good thing; other times, not. Writers should always be in control of their stories. A grad school professor once told me that when a story “writes itself,” it's a sign the author hasn't thought it through carefully. 

And yet sometimes those unexpected detours and uninvited guests can be the best thing about the story.

Back when I was working on my comic book, Gold Dust, I introduced a minor character who appears for one panel. A short time later, when I had the opportunity to write a story for an anthology that was never published, I decided to use my minor character. At this point, I still had no idea who she was or her motivation.

But as I was writing the story, she told me who she was—and her background and setting worked well with the end-of-the-world story I was telling.

(And, yes, I am being purposefully vague.  There’s always the hope of publishing that story some day.)

Characters, of course, don’t actually talk to writers—though it doesn’t hurt to believe they can. Writing usually involves your subconscious working itself out through your characters.

The lesson I took from this was to let my stories live and breathe.  Let them explore their world, but hang back and make sure they don’t stray too far. 

Naturally, this entails judgment and guesswork. How do you know when a story is straying too far from its original purpose? You don’t—though repeated practice can develop your sense of what might work and what definitely will not.

I’m not sure if I’m going to keep the “uninvited guest," but I’ll let him stick around for awhile and see what develops.

What about you?  What do you do when your story writes itself?

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Anonymous said...

Good post.

Dave Whitaker said...

Ah, the unexpected detour. Greg, my own novel has taken an unexpected detour of late thanks to the advice of you and the writers' group. In revisiting dialogue between two main characters, a whole new direction for my story emerged and now I'm doubly stoked to write it. The happy accidents are what make a story great.

Greg Gildersleeve said...

Thanks for posting, Alix and Dave.

I'm glad that our advice has helped you, Dave. Your story's come a long way.

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