Corralling the Wayward Character—or what to do when a character writes his own story?
Many writers say that their books write themselves. Sometimes that happens to me and as long as I agree with what my characters do, well, that just makes my job easier. But what do you do when a character will not keep on the path you’ve created for him?
There are many conflicting views on the subject. Here are two of them:
Toni Morrison Dispenses Writing Wisdom in 1993 Paris Review: As for keeping control of her characters, Morrison says, “They have nothing on their minds but themselves and aren’t interested in anything but themselves. So you can’t let them write your book for you.
In Steven King’s On Writing he states, “I have never demanded of a set of characters that they do things my way. On the contrary, I want them to do things their way. In some instances, the outcome is what I visualized. In most, however, it’s something I never expected. For a suspense novelist, this is a great thing. I am, after all, not just the novel’s creator but it’s first reader. And if I’m not able to guess with any accuracy how the dammed thing is going to turn out, even with my inside knowledge of coming events, I can be pretty sure of keeping the reader in a stage of page-turning anxiety.
Maybe it’s best to compromise between these views, but how? I have been contemplating this since 2013 and have come to a conclusion. As long as the character pleasantly surprises me and moves the story forward along the lines I have in mind then I’ll let them keep surprising me and keep developing the story. But when a character tries to make the story about him/herself instead of about the protagonist’s conflict then I need to delete the wayward activity by nipping it in the bud.
In my upcoming novel, ALL THE VOICES IN MY HEAD, Parker Allen wrote the first part of the story well then began to wander down a whole different path. I didn’t realize what was happening until I didn’t want to write anymore. I thought I had writer’s block, but it wasn’t that at all. I didn’t like the story and I hated Parker for ruining my protagonist’s life. I’d written 57,000 words and 22,500 of them were Parker’s wayward life.
Recently, with my husband’s advice, I realized that I had to either dump the entire story or kill off Parker. I couldn’t do either. So I cut out all of Parker’s bad behavior, and unwanted wanderings, fried his brain, and forced him into an irreversible coma.
It hurt me to cut that many words. It’s always difficult for a writer to cut chunks out of a beloved manuscript, but then that’s what good writing is about. So now that I’m back on track I expect ALL THE VOICES IN MY HEAD to be released later this year.
All the Voices in My Head blurb:
Gloria Webber’s college sweetheart and fiancé mysteriously disappears from her life in 1987. The next year she recklessly enters into a stormy marriage with Parker Allen, a would be rock star. Years later, with Parker in a protracted coma caused by drugs and alcohol, Gloria has an opportunity to turn her life around. However, she would have to divorce Parker and forsake her wedding vows to do so.
A few cover ideas. What do you think?
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