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Are you in control of your story?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Devor, Aug 11, 2019.

  1. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I know this is conflicting for a lot of people. But how much are you in control of your story? And how much does your story run on its own?

    Do your characters fall in line or make surprise decisions? Do events happen the way they're "supposed to," or do you find they surprise you? If you need your characters to hit point A, can you always make it happen?

    This goes hand in hand with pantsing vs. outlining, character arcs, the current multi-volume thread, and a lot of other discussions. But you can pants and still be in control. You can outline and still lose control.

    And why does this happen? Is it just a personality difference? An experience difference? Are there ups and downs to either way? Do you wish you had more or less control than you do?
     
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  2. JGCully

    JGCully Scribe

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    This is so very relevant to what happens with me.

    Very often I find that characters, particularly those I've established in previous stories, really do go off and do their own thing. This has, so far, proven to be a good thing.

    The stories feel more realistic and true to the characters and situation. The character actions often lead to interesting plot twists.

    The downside is that sometimes I write some really good scenes, then find that they don't fit the final story. Great dialogue that, when I review, doesn't look right when put into the world context. Or a great action scene that ultimately doesn't lead to any plot development.

    In the end, it means more editing for me and more time to complete the story.

    In my third book, another slight problem reared up. A 'diva' character. One that just needs more scene time because A: they were good (enjoyable for me to write, enjoyable for the reader to take an interest in) and B: They're motivations and personality were so complex they needed the time to explain just what they were up to. It meant that the 3rd book took 2 years to complete instead of the usual 1 year, though I am very proud of that third book.

    I don't know why this happens, but what I would say is that if it happens to you, embrace it. It may take more time to finish your story, but your story will be better for it in the end. Let the characters do their thing, put words on a page. Edit later!
     
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  3. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    Occasionally, my characters do things in accord with their persona that don't fit what I'd intended to write. In 'Empire: Estate,' for example, Tia wants to meet with a wizard in a disreputable part of town. Her companion/bodyguard Sir Peter Cortez, takes one look at the neighborhood and says 'no way are you going in there without me.' Originally, I'd envisioned Tia meeting said wizard in private. Peter butted in, and the whole conversation took a different turn. (Then it took a another turn with the rewrite, as Peter was elsewhere - but Tia still didn't get her private audience.)

    Rewrites often mean dramatic changes - and often those changes involve consequences for past actions. In 'Empire: Metropolis,' Rebecca (Tia's maid) is interviewed by the Inquisition. The Inquisitors were after background material pertaining to the wizard in 'Estate' - harmless enough. It turned out that Rebecca gleaned state secrets during that period. That lands her in a Church prison - and subsequent harrowing adventures - something not intended in the first draft.

    Two of many instances where character personalities and/or the consequences of their actions altered the story.
     
  4. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    The more I write, I think the more comfortable I am in navigating the wild twists a story can take. In some ways I can see it coming, and when I reach that point where the story veers off in unexpected ways, I know to pause and think about the consequences instead of blowing through and regretting it later. But, I think having the story be a little wild can be very helpful. For me, it pulls me unexpected directions, which can be good or bad, but if I don't like where it's going, or I don't think it's in line at all with what the character and story are about, I simply give a little tug on the reins and get things back on the road.

    For me, the degree of wildness a story has is directly related to how well I really know my characters and story. The better I know them, the less wild things are. That doesn't mean there aren't big surprises. It just means the surprises that do pop up, and the twists and turns, tend to fit more in line with the character and story. For example, I many need to get a character from A to Z, and my initial notes and thoughts had the story going through C, M, and X. But as I write, I may twist in to B and D, and skip over M all together, but in the end, I'll get to Z, usually taking a more interesting path.
     
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I absolutely do not understand characters doing anything on their own. I'm the only one in the room. To me, it's a bit like a puppeteer saying that the puppets just do things on their own.

    Now, I do understand saying things like that as a kind of shorthand. Much more economical than trying to describe the whole process of first I planned this then I thought of that then as I wrote I chose a particular word or phrase that ... well, yeah. Much easier to say a character just decided to go down that alley alone.

    It's when people start to insist that their made-up characters have some sort of real existence, that these non-entities are behaving as entities that I get mystified. I don't discount it--my reality ain't your reality--but I can't get a handle on it.

    As for the other direction Devor indicates, that happens all the time. I outline and still lose control, though I wouldn't put it that way. Obviously. Rather, I find that once I'm down in the trenches writing, what I had outlined no longer feels right or turns out to be downright unworkable. At which point instead of doing something sensible like stepping back and revising the outline, I charge ahead thinking I can just write myself to the next point of safe ground. And I wind up drowning while the wreckage of my outline drifts on the tide. See? Like that. I had a point to make and I wind up wading in metaphors, and I never met a phor I didn't like.

    I'm sorry. What were we talking about?
     
  6. Futhark

    Futhark Sage

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    I understand the puppet analogy. I think it’s when a puppet starts to become a fully fleshed character, and instead of you orchestrating their movements, you begin to ‘see’ them; get in their head so to speak. So your decision making process alters; it’s not about what you want, but how they would act or react. Personally, I aim for this standard in my character development, because even though I know they are a figment of my imagination, if I can view them as a seperate entity from me (their creator), then readers will hopefully see them as multilayered, faceted, fascinating characters.
     
  7. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    FutharkFuthark, sure. I'll buy that. The muse is a metaphor, not a reality of which I am the hapless victim, nor even the inspired artist. Heck, I'm inspired every time I breathe in. ;-)
     
  8. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    Futhark nailed it.
     
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  9. When I set out I have a basic idea of where things will go with the character arcs and three acts, high points, low points etc. But scene to scene, chapter to chapter, I leave a lot of wiggle room for things to happen "on their own". I feel in control but I know better than to tell an emerging idea it doesn't belong.

    I suppose i believe that, when I complete a story and look back, it should be very much like life. You can see, in retrospect, how you thought you might go from point A to point B but you realize often that nothing really went as you had planned and the end result may have been nothing like you expected. The unhappiest people I have known in my life were those who had put a stranglehold on their own futures and left no wiggle room for exploring. No room for deviations from their self selected paths. They may even have achieved what they set out to accomplish — but find they didn't enjoy the journey. They're also usually the least exciting of life stories (to me) And, when I'm writing stories, having every piece set in stone tends to feel the same.

    No, I never reach the end in the ways I expected to at the onset. I like to think of it the way I do with character building. When I start with a character, I have a sketch of who they are, but only through the writing process can they really come alive for me. And that only comes with giving the character ( and myself as their writer) the autonomy to see their choices and make them based on their ever evolving depth. My main character in my current WIP/novel was someone I knew well in real life. Brilliant mind, well rounded and full of quirks (wore toe shoes, had a distinct accent, decent amateur magician, smoked thin cigars, wore a bowler hat, worked freelance as an inventor and programmer yet he preferred to talk about music production and things like growing coffee beans ) but he was a habitual liar (small stuff that would never matter to anyone) and he was someone who craved attention and adoration in public. So I felt like that character was solid in my mind but, in the end, he needed to grow and expand within the story to make those strong/dominant traits believable and real. And I feel, though the person the character is based upon died a few years ago, that I understand him better through writing him into this story. It's fictional, I know, but that's the beauty of fiction. It can allow us to understand our realties better.

    I don't know if there are ups and downs since I only work in this one way. I think it's a personality thing for me. It's my own way of seeing life all around me.

    I moved across the country 25 years ago because of the result of a coin flip. (indirectly but it's the moment that set things in motion) It sent me in one direction in my car which led to finding the small coastal town I fell in love with. That would never have happened if that coin had turned one more time. I might have ended up in the Dakotas or the Southwest or British Columbia otherwise. So its a mix of decision making and exploring possibilities. I don't dwell on what if's either, so maybe that's what works for me in writing too. I can see all the choices, mentally flip the coin, but in the end once I go I don't look back and second guess the choices.

    I suppose I can't be excited about a story I know every detail of before I write it. For me this is true with reading as well. I have favorite books I have read many times but each time through I find that I have forgotten some of the minor scenes, or the peripheral characters and they are fun to rediscover. I don't think I could read a book that I knew every single twist and turn of by memory. I like the surprises.

    Great thread Devor!
     
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  10. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    I'll tie bak to what Furthark was saying. I think it's about when the characters become so fleshed out that you get to know them as people rather than as just ideas. You develop a feeling for what a character will do, and what they won't.

    This is when you can toss a situation at them and see how they react. They don't actually start reacting on their own, but you know them well enough that you can predict, with some accuracy, how they will react, even if you don't quite know what the situation is or where it will take the story.

    When you start of writing a character, and you don't know them very well, it's probably easy to gloss over minor events and details and focus on the big things.

    In the first chapter in the first book in the Lost Dogs series, the main character buys a cup of iced tea. This is just a bit of flavoring to flesh out the look and feel of the place they're at.
    In the eighth book of the series, about two thirds in, the main character went to buy a cup of coffee. Admittedly, it was going to be slightly more than flavoring, but not much. However, while writing the exchange at the coffee place, a vague idea formed, and all of a sudden I had ideas exploding out of my nose and ears like a drunk muse with a bucket of firecrackers and no sense of self-preservation.
    The end result was a new an unplanned scene which brought both me and my readers a lot closer to the character, and showed signs of them that hadn't been explored before.

    This couldn't have happened in the first example, in the first book, because the character wasn't well enough fleshed out yet, either to me or to the reader.

    In the eighth book, though, one simple idea started a chain reaction of additional ideas which lead to a new scene and a better story, all because I knew the character well enough to realize I'd found something interesting to explore.
     
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  11. Futhark

    Futhark Sage

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    Yes, this is it. So, harking back to the OP and how much control one has over the story; in a broad sense I need to be in control, hitting the plot points and ensuring my meticulous outline retains its integrity; but the finer details I try to let my characters ‘react’ to the situations and circumstances they find themselves in. When they push the boundaries of the plot/outline, then it just means I need a better plot.
     
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  12. Firmly in the "characters just DO STUFF and idk how to stop it" camp. I've had characters seemingly seize control of themselves from the very beginning of a story and grow into fleshed-out and fantastic characters seemingly without much input from me. I'm used to this happening to the point that I don't stress about developing every single detail of my characters from the start because I know they'll get filled in.
     
  13. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Auror

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    I am a benevolent dictator, heh heh. I don’t know whether the characters or story takes unexpected turns (or if that’s one and the same) but so long as they get where they need to be in the end they’re allowed to a little wanderlust.
     
  14. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Staff Leadership

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    I had a main character - reserved, highly intelligent, and a medical professional - tell me one day that she's a stimulant addict. Could have knocked me down with a feather. But, it made perfect sense given her "I'm fine" personality and the incredible amount of stress she's under.
     
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  15. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    Winter?
     
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  16. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Staff Leadership

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    That's the one!
     
  17. Mel Syreth

    Mel Syreth Scribe

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    I draw the starting line and set down the finish ribbon somewhere else then wait for the characters to find their way there.
    They often get stuck.
     
  18. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    For me.... I often feel like I have a lot of control but very little choice. If I add something to a story, it has this effect and I can't tinker with it. I'm at a point where I can't imagine Smughitter - at least volume 1 - turning out in any way other than what I have in mind. How could it? This is what's right for the characters. I wanted them to fight and for the fight to be painful, and that's what they were built for. At every step of the way there was this challenge, "How do I get this character dynamic right?" and at every decision, it's felt like there was one and only one answer.

    I know that's weird. I'm in tight control of my story, dialoguing (i.e, outlining) my scenes before I write them. But somehow I don't feel as though I've created this story, I feel like I found it. When I write, I sometimes feel as though I'm remembering the story, not telling it myself.

    I don't know if anyone else will relate to that?
     
  19. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Sage

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    I think with me it's 50/50. My characters do influence my decision but I never allow them to get out of control because then you just end up with a huge mess. I couldn't see but other writers could. There was no direction and the characters were Bipolar.

    That was my first book.

    Now I keep a rein on them and try to ask different questions to come up with possible actions. Some end up in the sack. I can't always get them from A to B. Because B doesn't workout right so it takes re-thinking.
     
  20. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Staff Leadership

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    I do this all the time, and everyone knows how tight my outlines are. Never-the-less when it comes down to actually writing it's like I'm watching everything unfold and sometimes it all goes delightfully off the rails. Then we need to pick it up, dusk it off, and figure out where to next. I love rabbit holes. Sometimes they lead to Wonderland.
     
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