Monday, March 24, 2008

Pushy Characters

Talk to any writer and she’ll probably tell you her characters speak to her all the time, even when she’s not writing. Some writers insist they do nothing but listen to what their characters are saying or doing and just write it all down, sort of like transcription. Definitely, when I’m in the zone, I’ll hear them discussing things and I don’t feel like I’m forcing them to say or do what I want them to. It’s when I do force them that I run into problems and the writing is stiff and bland or plot-heavy.

I have to tell you about a current situation I am in, one which I haven’t ever experienced before. I do believe you can’t write a story before it’s ready to be told. I mean, you certainly can but it won’t be good. Sometimes I think I’m ready to tell a story, then I get about 100 pages in and I stop. I HATE that so much! This is why I will wait a good long while for the characters to form in my head, for situations to develop, for a beginning, middle and end to construct itself. That way, when I finally sit down to write, I have no question in my mind that it’s the story I want to tell. And I actually look forward to writing, to getting up every morning and attacking my computer.

So…a few weeks ago I started a new story. I had a solid outline, characters I loved whose voices I could hear, and I was excited to work on it, even though it was complex and somewhat difficult. I was eager to write my pages.

And then, something happened. Another character with her own story came waltzing into my head, tapped on my cerebellum and said, “Hey, write me.” I ignored her for a little while but she wouldn’t go away. So I said, fine, I’ll write your outline and some character names and when I have time I’ll come back to you.

And still, she wouldn’t go away. “Tell my story NOW,” she insisted. I sighed. Okay, I would write a couple pages, maybe a first chapter but no more. I had another story I was working on, after all, one that came first.

But oh no, that wasn’t good enough for her. She kept pushing herself into my writing time when I was with the other story. She’d poke at me with phrases and bits of dialogue and emotions that I just couldn’t ignore. So eventually, I caved. I put aside the other story and began work on hers. I hope she can tell me her story really quickly because I want to get back to the other story soon.

Sheesh! Don't you just hate pushy characters?