Monday, June 8, 2009

Do Your Characters Talk to You?

I hear this a lot when I talk to writers.

I was working on my story and all last night, my characters were screaming at me to do something else. So now I am trying hard to get them to go in the direction they want to go...

When ever I hear this, I have to laugh. Either this is a sign of someone with serious psychological issues, or someone who is, what many writers refer to as a pantster. Either way, I am a firm believer that this is not the most effective way to writer.

Those people with characters "telling them what to do" may think this is the best direction to go when writing, but often times, you are letting the story run wild and not in the control that you need it to be to be effective and truly tell YOUR story. You as the writer need to be in complete control. I should note that when I say "YOUR" story, I am referring to the theme and idea you are trying to get across to the reader. In a romance, you want to have the happily ever after. In a mystery you want the crime solved. But there is more to this. What is the one thing you want the reader to walk away seeing and learning?

Understanding what you want out of the story gives you a direction to head when writing. I have heard several motivational speakers use this idea and I think it works well here. If you don't know where you are going, you may end up somewhere you don't want to be. This results in either an unhappy outcome, or having to back track to get to the right path. When it comes to writing, the same idea happens. I don't know about you, but I don't have the time to back track and do something again. Published authors know what a pain it is when you receive a huge batch of revisions on your story. We love nothing better than receiving a note from our editor say, "there are only 2 things to deal with." This is a result of planning.

Now, back to the characters. If you are letting the characters take charge of the story, you may head the wrong direction. Remember, they don't know the end result. They cannot predict the future (and yes, even those paranormal psychics can't either). This means that you as the narrator have to take charge.

I would highly encourage all of you, even those who are resistant to change, to sit down and make a plan for your story. I am not saying it has to be a formal outline, but you need to have the major points blocked out from the beginning to the end. What is the dark moment going to be? What are their conflicts? Figure it out before you start and you might amaze yourself how fast you can writer GREAT stories.


  1. Well, we'll have to agree to disagree with on this point. I think you need to have a beginning and an end, when you start, but where you go in the middle can be completely up to your characters.

    Writing is about getting the creative juices flowing. If you can't be creative, if you can't let the characters talk to you, it's not going to work.

    If you have no direction, I agree, you're going to have trouble writing a novel. But, I think if you know where you want the characters to end up, they'll take you there. Even if they choose a more meandering route than you initially thought they would.

  2. Anon,

    I hear what you are saying and you are right that you need a beginning and an end; however, if your pathway there is not focused and things are not added that are NECESSARY, you have a story that will require much more editing and revision or simply one that will lose the reader when we keep thinking, "where is this going to?"

  3. I realize I am extremely late on this comment, and that there is a strong chance the only person who will ever read it is myself, or possibly some other author wide awake at midnight after drinking too much coffee and catching up on all the blogs they've missed over the past few weeks, but, I did want to comment.

    I am an absolute panster. BUT. I am also someone who believes that while it's okay to write from the seat of my pants, the organization of the story has to be set up way before I actually put words to page.

    I write from a three act structure. I know which characters and conflict have to be introduced in Act I, what movement and resolution/introduction of new conflicts have to take place in Act II, the mid point, where the black moment should hit and what should happen to bring about the all so happy Act III HEA. I keep a running spreadsheet of the word count to remind me of when the peaks and valleys should hit within my story. I know about where the public/private moment should hit (pretty much the middle), where all of the main characters need to be introduced, when the black moment should occur, and I know all of this because I plan the word counts ahead.

    I don't plan the plot. I enjoy seeing where my brain takes me from day to day, and I've got an excellent memory (as well as a lovely notebook) that allows me to keep up with the subtle nuances as they occur. So I'm a panster, but also someone who sees the value in planning ahead, or at very least keeping track of what should be happening and when.

    I would never see myself as a plotter, mostly because I truly never start books with the entire book in mind, but I absolutely believe that even a panster, or at least one who wishes to be successful, should have a way to organize their writing as they go.