What’s this? Me, the arch-planner, admitting that my characters sometimes have a will of their own? I’ve always dismissed that idea as nonsense. Characters come from the mind of the writer, where else? The writer invents them, so they dance to her tune. She can make them do and think and say what she wants all the way through the story. Right?
I’ll get back to that soon. For now, let me fill you in on the current state of my work in progress. I’m writing the last part of a novel with the working title Caller, part three of the Shadowfell series of historical fantasy books intended for a YA/adult crossover readership. The deadline is getting uncomfortably close.
I’m one of those writers who plan things out in some detail before they start a new book. I prepare outlines and synopses and chapter plans. When I’m ready to start, I don’t do a quick and dirty first draft, I write a few chapters at a time, then edit them before I move on. That means the initial writing is quite slow, but there’s not a lot of re-drafting needed later. That method suits me and has done for fifteen years as a full-time professional. Other approaches work well for other writers.
Many will think my method sounds rigid. But it has room for flexibility. I’ve never changed the overall architecture of a novel in the middle of building it, but I make changes when I find a better way to do something, a more effective way of moving the story along or creating tension or providing a window into motivation or character. I tend to make changes to the way I’m writing the story, not to the story itself. I know where the characters are coming from and where they’re headed, not just physically but on an emotional and psychological level. My characters may spring surprises on the reader, but not on me.
So here I am, getting to the pointy end of this manuscript with my characters in increasing peril from external sources and at the same time beset by internal conflict (there’s a strong thread in the Shadowfell books about conscience and responsibility – can lies, deception and violence be justified if they’re the only way to achieve a greater good?) I know already that my two protagonists can’t come out of the story without significant psychological damage. And now one of those protagonists has started making choices I didn’t plan for him. Awful choices. Crazy, unwise choices. What’s going on? [Read more…]