I used to think that once I typed a story, that was it. The words could change a little and we’d call that an edit. I might move a sentence or two, clear up a question, add a beat. But the story that emerged, that was pretty much set in stone. After all, if that’s the way it came out, that’s how it was meant to be, right? That’s what the characters were telling me to do and I had to listen to them. Right?
Not so much. At least, not this time around.
When I started writing Wish You Weren’t, I had a pretty good idea where I wanted it to end up. I wasn’t sure about all the in between stuff, what Avi calls “the muddle,” but I knew the ending so I figured I could flail my way there.
Well, I did plenty of flailing. I wrote this weird, melodramatic, dark crap that I hated. I kept thinking if that’s where the characters wanted to go, didn’t I, as the author, have an obligation to follow them there?
I’ve decided that way of thinking is wrong, at least for me, and certainly, for this story. My characters are NOT the boss of me.
When it came right down to it, the problem was lack of confidence. I didn’t think I was good enough to write the story the way I wanted it to be written, so I fell back on easier solutions. I gave the characters stupid obstacles to overcome and made it too easy for them, for ME, to find a way out. And it was boring. I hated the story so much I put it to the side and worked on other things.
But this story didn’t want to go away. Thankfully, my subconscious kept working on it and when I came back to it months later, I ended up throwing away more than a third of what I had written. This time I took charge of the story. I made it the story I wanted it to be. And it was hard. I honestly wasn’t sure if I was capable. I studied other writers and every time they awoke an emotion in me or made me smile or took be by surprise, I tore the writing apart to figure out how they did that so I could do it too. I learned from books that weren’t even close to my genre, as well as from books you could say are like mine. And it helped, to not just read good books but to study them.
I think I showed my characters who the boss is, but the work of getting there has made the story stronger, made me a stronger writer.
Have you ever had characters try to hijack your story? Who wins: you or them?