I had a very interesting conversation a few weeks ago at my writers society meeting. The topic of discussion was “Why do you write?”, and … well, here’s basically what I said (in bullet points for your convenience!):
- I first really got into writing when I read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and was absolutely devastated that Sirius Black died
- This prompted me to pen a 300k word fanfiction in which Sirius and James come back to life and get up to all sorts of shenanigans with Harry
- This prompted me to try my hand at writing original fiction, since I discovered that writing was actually something I really enjoyed doing
The writers society president summed this up as “You like to have control over your characters and their fates”, which is true. Of course, I have other reasons for why I write — I love to entertain people, I love the act of writing itself, stories pile up in my head and take up way too much brain space if I don’t get them down on paper, etc. But the fanfiction anecdote was what I went with for the meeting.
Anyway, after the president’s “you like control” statement, another lady at the meeting spoke up. Her speech essentially boiled down to:
- You can try to control your characters all you want, but they’re going to do whatever they want, regardless of what you try to make them do
It’s an interesting suggestion, but … I’m not sure I agree with her. I mean, yes, sometimes my characters do things I don’t want them to as I write a scene, but it’s not because they’ve magically taken control of my fingers and are forcing me to change the direction of the scene. Usually it’s because I imagined the scene playing out one way in my mind, but when I actually get down to writing the scene, events just flow in a different direction. But that’s writing — what you see in your head and what you put down on paper rarely match up perfectly.
Then again, I’ve spoken to writers who feel that stories are living things — or, sometimes, even supernatural messages from the beyond — and that the writer is just the conduit to get that story down onto paper. They make it sound like writing is an almost spiritual experience. For me, though, stories are just … you know, stories. I love writing them, sure, but it’s not like I’m going to suffer some sort of psychological or emotional torture if I don’t get them out of my head. Well, as my mother likes to say, different people are different. I kind of envy the people who are so driven to write that they feel possessed … but at the same time, I can’t help but feel that would be a terrifying way to live, not being in control of your own mind. I don’t know.
What do you guys think? Does the story control you, or do you control the story? Who determines the fate of your characters — you, or them?
Unrelated media of the day:
Two guys play one cello and it’s sort of awesome. No, they’re not gay. But the seated guy’s expression is nevertheless fabulous.
I’m one of those whose characters take over and do totally unexpected things that, occasionally, wreak havoc with my plot. I won’t say writing is a spiritual experience for me. I do it because I’d likely go mad if I didn’t have a way to silence the voices in my head, clamoring for me to tell their tales. Where do the ideas come from? Who knows. Are they living things? In the sense that they grow and change, or languish and die if I don’t pay attention to them…yes.