Monday, August 11, 2014

You Are Not in Control

and neither is Shayla Poling

So you've got this plot in mind. A full-grown plot, mind you, not just a fetal idea, half-formed and unable to survive outside the bounds of your nurturing brain.

Don't get attached. There are those who want to see your plot completely and totally derailed. They'll stop at nothing to dismantle everything you've built over days or weeks of planning and prewriting. These people? Your characters.

"But my characters aren't real!" you may be shouting at your monitor, completely disregarding the futility of this act. "They can't control me! I control them! I AM THEIR GOD!"

No, my friend, no you are not.

Also, maybe stop yelling at your electronics. It's weird.

Writing is an act of evolution, not intelligent design. Plot evolves as you write it, growing limbs in places you didn't expect and stepping across the boundaries of genre just as the first footed creatures waddled out of the sea.

Pokemon has taught us that evolution can be a little extreme.
Good characters evolve from simple caricatures into complex, multicellular beings. They think. They breathe. They choose. You can poke and prod them into place, force them at pen-point to do what you need them to, but unless what you need them to do aligns perfectly with what they would do, the action will seem as forced as it is. As a reader, you may have noticed some of the more pervasive examples of this: characters losing half of their brain cells for just long enough to make the stupid decision necessary to push the plot forward, characters going against their own previously established characterization, the plot dropping coincidence upon coincidence onto its character's heads in order to force them onward. In the hands of a competent writer, these moments can be catalysts for a character's evolution. In the hands of an incompetent writer, they are at best a digression and at worst a u-turn in a character's arc.


Fueling your plot with stupid leaves a pretty hefty signature, enough to pollute your reader's enjoyment—and belief in your world and the events taking place within it—permanently. Don't make your readers roll their eyes.

Like a mother bird, an author must sometimes shove its fledgling cast members from the nest and hope they flap themselves on course. Their path may be a little circuitous, but if you've crafted characters who fit your story and, more importantly, your world, they'll make their way to a conclusion. Eventually. After many unexpected—but nonetheless important—detours.

Respect your characters. Let them make mistakes, but don't force mistakes upon them. Back up characterization with scenes that will let your characters display their strengths and weaknesses. Provide the setting, provide the conflict, then let them improvise. It might not work out, but that's what editing is for.

Editing is also for ruining your life and damaging your self-confidence, but we'll cover that in a separate post.

No comments:

Post a Comment