Character tug-o-war

Nathan Bransford has a good post about runaway characters and their authors who let them do it. Nathan makes a lot of sense – like, duhh, doesn’t he always?

I hear this comment all the time: “Well, I had my story all figured out until my character decided it should go in another direction.”

Ok, I’m willing to play along with this notion – to a point. This is where character tug-o-war comes into play. First thing you should ask yourself is, “who’s in charge of this insane asylum?” Ostensibly, it’s you.

Nathan suggests that it’s a danger to allow the character too much of a voice in the decision-making. As a writer, I think this is murky territory. I have a very strong vision of my story’s structure, the conflicts, and eventual resolution. But when I get into the nitty gritty of actually writing the chapter/story, it does seem as though my characters gently take me by the hand and offer up other solutions. Or twists. Lawdy, I love it when they come up with plot twists.

Yah, I know how schizoid this makes me sound. But you’re all writers, so you’re just as crazy as I am. Right? Um…right, guys?

Where I tend to part ways with the whole character tug-o-war thing is when the story veers off the literary railroad tracks. I remember critting a piece last year and then seeing it again at another writer’s conference. “What gives?” I asked, “Didn’t Sophie kill her aunt for stealing her boyfriend? So why is the auntie now a major part of the story and is Sophie’s best friend?”

“Oh, heh heh, Sophie suggested that the story wasn’t as strong that way.”

Um. Ok, this is when I double-check to make sure we’re not alone ‘cos I find this a wee bit creepy. As Nathan said, our characters are as “alive” in our heads, and most of us react to the logic of those characters. To go completely off the reservation because a “character told me to” is a serious case of character tug-o-war.

You’re the captain of your literary ship, and you have first, middle, and final say over how the story unfolds. You thought up the plot, the foundation, the characters, the conflict, and the resolution. If your story is being held hostage by your characters, then I recommend a good literary exorcist.

Otherwise, it’s like allowing the beagle a voice during contract negotiations. Utterly illogical and downright crazy. but what can I expect when my executive assistant is paid in expensive tequila and designer chewie bones…

One Response to Character tug-o-war

  1. Lorelei says:

    If my characters got a vote they would be right here on the couch beside me, up to their elbows in my bag of gladcorn. That is unacceptable to me. I am in charge here on the couch and they can darned well get out there and keep marching through my outline. They may offer suggestions on their dialogue, but they do not have suffrage in my empire.

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