A writer in control?
I hear hollow laughter from my friends and fellow authors.
And yet only a couple of days ago someone was telling me a story which appeared to demonstrate the exact reverse.
Writer in Control While Lecturing?
The story is this: some time ago a Very Distinguished Author was holding one of those literary Events in an overseas capital. I detect a faint whiff of the British Council. But possibly it was just a simple commercial book tour. At some point the Very Distinguished One invited questions. As they do.
In control? I don’t think so.
Anyway, my interlocutor, a kindly soul, recognised her civic duty. She bit on the bullet, braced up and did, indeed, ask a question of the Very Distinguished Party. Did his characters ever get away from him?
Distinguished Party’s lip curled. He manifestly scorned question and questioner. Of course not. He was the writer. They were his characters. They only did what he gave them to do. He said so. Collapse of kind questioner.
Writer in Control of Characters?
“Um. That is not my experience,” I said. Once I’d got my breath back.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve sat at a table with one of my author mates, drowning our sorrows because our tycoons can’t understand business, murderers refuse to murder and our much-loved romantic heroine is so fixated on her career that she just want to stay friends with the hero. (Jolly good sessions they are, usually.)
We invent these people. We give them their instincts and their back story. And then they turn round and do their own thing, leaving our lovely complex plot floundering.
And you know what? It’s a good thing. If they can surprise us, they will surprise the reader. In other words, they’re real.
This Writer in Control. Not.
It has happened to me at least once in every book I’ve ever written. The most extreme case was the stepsister of my heroine in The Millionaire’s Daughter.
In plot terms she was supposed to be the heroine’s rival, shallower, prettier, a wilful party girl in contrast to my conscientious heroine. She was supposed to make a play for the hero and generally throw a spanner in the romantic works.
Only right from the start the stepsisters became really good friends. I couldn’t shift them. Bang went my plot, right?
Well, I had a deadline and this was the story that was pushing itself in front of me. So how was I going to make her betray her sister? Well, of course, I couldn’t. She wouldn’t.
The only way she would try to seduce the hero was if she thought she was in love with him herself.
So I ended up with a happy romance on the page and a sweetheart of a minor character off the page, with a broken heart. I couldn’t bear it.
So then I had to write another story to deal with the aftermath of his rejection and then give Bella her own Happy Ever After. I SO love that book.
In my last blog I talked about some of the difficulties of being a writer. There are also unexpected rewards. To me, the characters who grab the ball and run with it are a huge delight. Trying sometimes. But truly life-enhancing. And the result is almost always better than anything I could have planned or predicted.
In fact, on a recent BBC radio programme Ron Arad, designer of the truly remarkable bodyguard chair, beautifully summed up my feelings on the subject.
“I like it when you do work and what you get is better than you deserve.”
Sometimes the universe just gives you a present.
So true. My heroine Lady Fan was supposed to be retiring and the unknown real sleuth behind the front man. Ha! She walked onto the page and took centre stage immediately. And of course made it a much better story.
Characters who take it and run truly are alive.
Goodness, I would never have guessed that Lady Fan was ever meek and retiring. Woo hoo!
Love this post and pity the Very Distinguished Party who is missing so much. I, too, had a minor character who was supposed to be the needy one driving my heroine’s actions. She just wouldn’t play the part I’d given her. I had to promise her her own book to get her to behave. Her book won me a Very Prestigious Prize.
My point proven, I think, oh RITA-winner and RONA-winner. Not that I’m surprised. Your characters hum with life.
Great post, Sophie, and The Bridesmaiid’s Secret is one of my favourites of your books. Interesting to hear the story behind it. So glad the bridesmaid refused to be mean!
So pleased you like it too, Helena. I’m proud of most of my books but I feel especially tender about a few. The Bridesmaid’s Secret is definitely one.
That’s what was wrong with the last book. Nobody ran off the wrong way.
Sometimes that happens, too, Lesley. Not necessarily wrong. The only thing I know about my writing process is that it’s never the same twice. And absolutely nothing predicts readers’ reactions, either.
PS …and off-topic. I couldn’t remember signing up for your occasional newsletter, so I signed up again. However, the URL link I was sent didn’t take me to the restricted content – in fact, it didn’t show up as a link at all, so I had to copy and paste! Is it me?
We’ll look into it, Lesley. Sorry about that.
When you signed up again, Lesley, it simply overwrote your original subscription. I don’t understand why you didn’t get the restricted content link though. Maybe because you should have had it the first time? Anyway, I’ll send it to you again and hope it works this time. If you’re on Mac (as I suspect you are), that may be the problem as I know to my own cost 😉
Ah. It’s the same this time, so I’ve copied the link and pasted it again, but nothing’s happened! It’s the Mac!