Monday, March 26, 2012

Who's in Charge Here?

I find my stories taking on a life of their own at times. I think I’m going one way with the plot and it turns a corner without asking me. The same goes for characters. You think you have this guy/gal all figured out, and then they do something you never thought they would. I was really stumped by the heroine in the present story I’m writing. She started out being somewhat of a pushover, a pleaser, and the next thing I know she’s putting the hero in his place. Then she ends up with another guy all together. Could have fooled me, and she did.

I came across an article in the Smithsonian magazine interviewing Judy Blume. She started out by saying that writing is incredibly hard for her. What writer can’t appreciate that, and love the honesty of her sharing it. She also claimed that she’s not the world’s best mother. But everyone expects her to be due to the type of books she writes, mainly about coming-of-age issues. Blume said there’s so much she doesn’t know when she starts writing a book, and that’s the best part of writing for her. The surprises along the way. When writing her most popular book, Are You There God It’s Me Margaret, she thought she was writing about organized religion, yet the book became famous for dealing with puberty. People glossed over the personal relationship Margaret has with God.

It makes me wonder how much control we really have as authors. I write all over the place, which is obvious by my pushy heroine bossing me around. But between the independent characters, the wayward plots, and readers taking away something different than what you meant for them to, I get a little confused. This was my idea to start with, right?

I try to cover three elements in each of my books: A faith element, a takeaway that hasn’t been overused, and a relevant topic to motivate discussion. But frequently, by the time the story is finished I look back and they have all changed into something different. Like my Amish hero leaving the community to experience Rumspringa (running around) in the city, became second to the heroine going, but she went for a completely different reason, to evangelize. I don’t know where she came up with the idea, but I liked it.

Question: Do your stories surprise you?


Bruce Hennigan said...

I remember so clearly planning out my first novel "The 13th Demon" and writing a scene where a physicist drives up to the church where my protagonist, Jonathan Steel is waiting. I went against type and made her a woman and had planned on using her presence in the story as a romantic interest.

I'm writing the scene and suddenly, a teenage boy jumps out of the truck. He is stinky and obnoxious and storms off into the distance leaving his mother in the truck to meet her new "love" interest.

Where did he come from? I NEVER planned on introducing a woman character with a son, much less a teenager who seemed to push all of Jonathan Steel's buttons. I had to chalk it up to some kind of divine story intervention. As it turns out, the boy becomes a pivotal character, a pivotal plot device, and lives on beyond the first book to become Jonathan Steel's "adopted" son.

Yes, this element totally surprised me but I can't imagine the story working any other way. I like it when God surprises me. Well, I like it some of the times!

Beth Shriver said...

That WAS a major addition to your original story. Don't you love it though. How boring to have all of your characters behave. Those are the ones who usually cause the best conflict in the story. And I'm with you, God's surprises that make us stronger aren't always welcome, but we sure like the blessings along the way:)

Lena Nelson Dooley said...

I agree with both of you. An interesting side note to this. So many readers have contacted me about something in my stories that changed something in their lives. Every single one of them were things that God gave to me as I was writing the story. They weren't things I'd planned. That's why it's so important to stay in touch with Him so He can lead you down paths He has already planned for your story.

Patricia PacJac Carroll said...

I am constantly surprised by my stories and characters. But it's what I love about the process. Like we tap in to a creative stream, we do the writing, but ....

Beth Shriver said...

Lena, it is so rewarding when we have touched someone with our writing. It is a big responsibility that I wouldn't dare do without God's guidance.

Along those lines, Patty, don't you love it when you least expect it and you feel that creative stream leading you and you sit back and wonder...where did that come from? It's rarely something I plotted in the story, it's better.

Jillian Kent said...

I love it when I get about 3/4 of the way through the book and discover something that will make the book so much stronger in the first quarter of the book because of following one of my characters to a place I hadn't planned on going. Well, that was one long sentence. :)

I'm not a big plotter though so I'm always wondering around, which makes for not so fun revisions. Nice post, Beth. Love it.

Beth Shriver said...

Jill, it's so funny that you said you followed your character to make the story better. It's funny how we they end up leading us:) I'm a seat of the panther myself so I understand your revision pains:( It's so much more fun writing it though:) Glad you liked the post and could relate to it:)