Monday, June 24, 2013

Being True

At a recent lecture to a bunch of aspiring writers I was asked what you do when a character "hijacks" a story. She questioned me on what she should do when a minor character, who incidentally had a fabulous moniker that immediately grabbed my attention, began taking over the plot and leading the story in an unintended direction.  Her real complaint, I discovered after a little probing, was that she had been trying to write a SHORT story and this new character was causing it to become longer and, possibly, a novelette*.

I've had other writers tell me of this happening in their own work.  An otherwise insignificant spear carrier steps out of the chorus and begins dominating the stage, stealing the limelight from the lead protagonists.  It should be noted that the character who does this does not have an independent existence but is, in fact, a creation of the writer's mind.  Each writer has dealt with this happenstance in their own way; some going with the flow to see where it would go, others enlarging the story to give the character a place, while still more administer the writer's axe and excise the nasty bastard before he ruins everything!

It's always a danger when a writer tries to shoehorn a story to fit and predetermined plot when the  brain is telling you to change directions. Perhaps the lead characters weren't interesting enough or their relationship was flawed. Whatever the reason an emerging character is always a sign that the story needs to go in a different direction.  Nobody knows from where the stream of consciousness flows to fill the writer's well of ideas and it is only to their peril that they ignore it.  Forcing a story into a strait jacket of defined plot and scrupulously tailored characters will usually kill anything interesting that might occur.

A writer should always let the story tell itself by listening to their inner voice.  Writing a compelling story is an art and not something you can  "engineer."  The good writers are those who speak from the heart, listen to their instincts, and write in an authentic voice.

*For the uninitiated a short story, according to SFWA guidelines, is any story with word count under 7,500.  A novelette is any story with more than 7,500 but less that 17,500 words.  Many magazine editors want short stories to be around 5,000 words or less, for formatting and layout reasons.


1 comment:

  1. When this happens to me, as it does every now and then, it seems to be because there's something missing in the story that the character can address.

    The way I experience it (and I'm not saying it's this way for everyone), when a character tries to hijack a story, it's a symptom of a story that's out of balance somehow. In short stories, especially, every character is there solely to carry some part of the plot. So if the character is "acting up," for me it's a sign that something's out of whack with his or her part of the plot.



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