Okay, so you know those moments where you’re sitting there and you’re thinking … something’s not quite right? It’s too quiet, or one of your characters is just acting suspiciously. And that’s the moment you look at them and you say “you there. What are you doing?!” and they look back ‘who me? Not me … but you might want to ask this new guy in the corner.’ and you’re like … new guy?! What new guy?! And the new guy turns and says ‘hi! I’ve always been here, you’ve just ignored me and it turns out I’m kind of crucial to what you’re doing here’.
That’s the moment at which you <insert expletive here> or several if the mood strikes.
It’s not the old crowd that causes the problems it’s the new ones. The ones that come in and say, hey that line there … you want to scrap that. And the reason you want to scrap that is because that dude is not in love with her, she’s madly and wildly in love with me. It’s at that point you reach for the alcohol and you wish you’d never picked up your pen or opened your laptop. In fact, you’re probably thinking ‘can I have a do over please?!’
Only you can’t. Because we can’t just hit the delete button and wish that the annoying new character would go away as they firmly plant their feet on the figurative table. They’ve already made themselves at home. And they’re happily pointing out that you can’t get rid of them – and even if you try, they’ll come and haunt you. Great. Just great. There’s no way of winning, you can just accept that you have to deal with this. Move on and hope for the best.
The problem with this, is that as you’re happily writing away you suddenly find yourself in a predicament. Your new character is right. Not only are they right, they are so right that you want to find the delete button to see how far into the past you can delete them. Suddenly, your story flows better and things come together more … and you utter those immortal words “where the <insert expletive if you wish> were you x amount of time ago?!” and they look at you, smug as anything ‘I’ve always been here. You just haven’t listened’.
No. Of course we haven’t listened, because they are characters in our heads and we like to live in the delusion that we know best. I’ve said it once, I’ve said it before … we’re not in control. No matter how much we like to believe it. But it’s a valuable lesson, that you don’t write the story, not really as a writer – your characters do it for you. Characters come in and they go – like people going in and out of your life – and they work with your characters. Sometimes they stay and become an integral part of the story, sometimes you have to chop them, but knowing that your character will be all the richer for that brief interaction with x character back in scene 1 that now no longer exists.
I hate admitting that my characters know better than I do. I really do. I hate acknowledging the fact that I need to listen to them more and that I can’t yell at them for speaking out of turn, because no matter what they do know best. Point in case? Charlotte and I have spent the weekend doing just this. You start off with one small voice … and suddenly that small voice has a wife or husband and children, and then there are friends and before you know it … you’ve found all the missing links to your story that you didn’t even know that were there.
Which is why we’re now pressing the expletive button, pouring the alcohol and asking for a re-do on today, hoping that by the time tomorrow comes our new characters will have gone away. Only, we don’t really mean that, because if we were to wake up tomorrow and find that they were all gone … our story would be all the poorer for it.
We’re thankful really … just yeah, sometimes guys it would really help us if you announced your presence earlier on and not wait until we’re halfway through the book to announce what it is you’re doing.