Thursday, May 28, 2009

Master or Servant?

Quotes for the Day:
You put a character out there and you’re in their power. You’re in trouble if they’re in yours. ~Ann Beattie

That trite little whimsy about characters getting out of hand; it is as old as the quills. My characters are galley slaves. ~Vladimir Nabokov

I love the above quote by Vladimir Nabokov. I’m a control freak. I like things organized and ordered and scheduled. Although things rarely work out this way when it comes to anything having to do with my fiction work. I don’t write the book in order, I don’t outline, I don’t plan (except for knowing the basic storyline), I set word count or page goals that I rarely stick to….so why should I expect my characters to toe the line any better than anything else in my fiction world?

Yet, while reading through my favorite book of author quotes, most of the authors listed agreed with Ann Beattie. They felt their characters should be allowed to roam free, that they just sit back and watch as the characters dictate the story. Only a couple of them were on Nabokov’s side, such as John Cheever who said, “The idea of authors running around helplessly behind their cretinous inventions is contemptible.” (I love that quote) :D

I think for me, it is a little bit of both. My characters have a certain voice, an attitude and personality that is uniquely theirs. When a certain situation arises, there are certain ways that character is going to react, and often it is not the way I planned on it happening. I’ll write a scene with a particular situation in mind, envision my characters acting a certain way, and then start writing only to see the scene playing out completely differently in my head.

Now, sometimes what is coming out works – but sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I will reread the scene and think, “Wait a second…Kesi is cute and spunky, but she’s a little unsure of herself. She wouldn’t react that way.” And I have to go back in and change things.

Other times, the way she reacts is EXACTLY how she should, but for some reason or other I need her to react differently. Maybe I want her to step out of her shell and do something unexpected. So again, I go back and change whatever it is that needs changing.

So for me, I think I allow my characters a certain amount of freedom, though I by no means run helplessly behind them. :) They get to take the lead….as long as they are doing it correctly. If they don’t, I go all galley master on them and make them do my bidding. (Mwahahahhahahaaaaa) ;-)

How about you guys? Are your characters in charge? Or are they your galley slaves?


Anonymous said...

I truly think of my self as the sculture who reveals my characters. What they do and who there are is up to them... my job is to figure it out. And then polish it in the end.

So I guess my answer is both - depending on where I am in the process. When I write the orignial story down, I do what they want - take the twists and turns they want to take. But when it is time to edit...that is ALL ME.

Katie Salidas said...

In writing my first draft, I am an innocent bystander as my characters play out their scenes before my eyes, however, once editing has begun, I take charge and start directing.

So I guess that means, I share both sides. It is not exactly as black and white as a master/slave relationship. A collaboration of sorts.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Wow, I really enjoyed your post! I think I've been struggling with this in my story the past few days. I keep trying to TELL my characters how to react to this thing they're dealing with and not letting them do what comes naturally. I KNOW my characters, I know this isn't quite right, but I can't seem to let go of that control. I am going to try to take what you've written and apply it to my writing. There's a big plot moving scene coming up and I really want it to reveal a lot about my to MC's.

Scott said...

My characters are totally in charge! Every now and then they do what I want them to, but not too often. Writing would be so boring, at least to me, if they didn't travel their own path. : )

For instance, one MC was supposed to find love and happily ever after with another character. That was the plan when I started the manuscript. Well, that's not what ended up happening. I have no clue why, but I was definitely more pleased with the alternate ending.

I've also had very minor secondary characters suddenly take on a major role in the manuscript. Sometimes, those pesky secondary characters want more life. : )


B.J. Anderson said...

Lol, this is great. I have to say my characters are my galley slaves and if they get out of hand (which they have been known to do), I am standing nearby to use that delete key on them.

H. L. Dyer said...

*snort What an image... a character chase!

Heavy outliner over here. ;)

Jamie D. said...

Great post. I normally let my characters tell me what's going on, but there are times when something they do just won't work. That mostly happens when they need to grow, or do something outside their comfort zones. Then I give 'em a forceful nudge in the right direction, to keep things on track.

But I'm with Scott - writing becomes boring to me the minute I try to control it too much, so I use my "veto power" sparingly.

LaFleur2009 said...

My characters are definitely in charge. Whoever starts talking, I start there. I can see it all... I experience what they experience. It is very bizarre. I never thought that I would become a writer.

Right now, I'm experiencing difficulty with my second novel. It is intimidating because I do not have a good understanding of the financial world, which Julian dominates. But, I just thought about it... If I would just allow them to tell me what happens instead of trying to plot it out, it would probably flow better! Perhaps I do not need to research the financial world. I'll just allow them tell me what they wish to reveal!

Andrew Rosenberg said...

They're definitely in charge. In fact, even after the writing's complete, they keep bugging me. "How's the editing going?" "When are you going to fix that scene where I escape too easily?" "Have you sent out queries yet?"
They won't accept the fact that they're just characters, they think they have a right to boss me around. Fortunately, I'm the one with the delete key if they get too out of line. ;)

Michelle McLean said...

LOL you know, I love the movie "Nim's Island." (haven't read the book though yet). It cracks me up the way Jodie Foster's character interacts with her character Alex Rover. Too funny :D

Elana Johnson said...

My characters are in charge--until they make me so mad and I write their death scene. They don't like that. ;-) Then they usually simmer and let me do my job.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

It totally depends on the character. It took me awhile to realize this, thus my whole episode with wanting to divorce my novel and then realizing that was a bad idea. :)

Danyelle L. said...


It seems that there was a vote (that I missed out on) and it appears as though they are the master, and I am the galley slave. :$

But my revenge comes much later during the revision process.