When it Comes to Your Writing, Who’s Really in Control?

Where do you want your characters to go…or where should they take you?

So, you’ve finally done it. You’ve completed your outline for your novel or short story and you’re ready to sit down and write.  Your fingers are poised over the keys of your computer – or typewriter, if you’re old school – you take a deep breath, and dive into the story.

As you start to dig into story, you realize that your main character is taking you down a storyline that you didn’t outline or anticipate.  In fact, it’s almost as if your protagonist is in control of what they’re saying and doing.  It’s as if you are only there to transcribe the events as they unfold.  A mere voyeur to a story you hadn’t even planned.

This is a good thing!

I’ve had these moments happen many times while writing.  I think I’m going to take the story one place due to planning ahead, and then the main character takes the wheel and we go off on a weed-infested dirt road that I never even knew was there.  It’s at these moments while writing – especially during the drafting process – that it’s best to just sit back and see where things go.

Sometimes you’ll hit a dead end.  Sometimes you’ll learn something new about the character and the choices they make that can have an impact on the story and in turn the character’s interactions with others in the story.  The key during these moments is not to fight the creativity taking hold of your brain and your fingers as the rapidly pound the keys to get every sentence down as fast as possible.

And it’s not only a great method of discovery for your main character.  Supporting characters can benefit and develop greatly during this process of creative surrender.  Maybe you have a character who you feel isn’t strong or dimensional enough; but while writing a sequence that includes them they begin to say things and do things that make them far more interesting and instrumental to the overall story.  That’s always an exciting time!

While I do support writing outlines, I also believe that as creative people we must allow ourselves to give into the temptation of going where our roadmap doesn’t.  Even if you do return to the road you previously paved, you may have learned a thing or two that can benefit your characters – and your story – in the long run.

Have you ever let your characters take the wheel and take your story down a trail you never expected? Leave a comment and let me know!

A Closer Look: Antagonists, Part Two

Should you like your antagonist?  Short answer: Yes.  Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to agree with their actions, their ideas, or their lack of moral clarity, but as a writer you need to be able to live inside the character’s head and give their actions as much meaning and importance as the main character. 

Another reason to like your antagonist: you will be living with them for a while, especially if you are writing a script or novel, so you have to be able to “work with them” in order to create an effective story. If you have created a character that you find so morally repugnant and repulsive that you can’t write scenes or chapters with them, then maybe it’s time to change the character or scale back what you don’t like about them. 

If they are in your story, they deserve your time and attention. 

Also remember that the antagonist feels that they are in the right on their side of the story.  They feel that what they are doing is necessary and just as important as whatever the main character is up to.  If they didn’t feel this way they wouldn’t be so strongly opposed to the main character getting what they want. 

All stories are a matter of perspective.

And while you have created a compelling and dimensional main character for us to follow over the course of the story, your antagonist should also be compelling and dimensional.  When you begin to develop this character, ask yourself:

  • What was their life like before the story began? 
  • How did they get to this point in their life?
  • What motivates them?  What are their hopes, dreams, fears, likes and dislikes, etc.?
  • What do they want in the story, and why?
  • Why do they oppose the main character’s goal?
  • What happens if the antagonist doesn’t achieve their goal?

Using these questions as a starting point, you can start to create a more realized and fully formed antagonist for your main character to deal with.  There is always a story behind why a character has evolved into who they are at this point in time when your story begins.  It’s your job as a writer to understand that story and use it to create a stronger antagonist.

On Friday we will continue or exploration of antagonists.