Posts Tagged With: ideas

Do you have control over your characters?

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.


Categories: Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , | 57 Comments

Guest Post: (Not) A True Story (Sinead O’Hart)

You guys know the drill by now – May = guest post party! Today we have Sinead O’Hart with us to muse on writing and family and the assorted shenanigans involved there-in.


(Not) A True Story

Phew! Well, I made it across the Atlantic just in time to make my contribution to this fine blog. Thanks so much to Michelle for allowing me to bust into her online home and leave muddy footprints all over the place. I promise I won’t be here long, and I’ll try not to do too much damage.

As writers, we face one constant question. Not ‘what the hell do you actually do every day?’ or ‘Are you sure your slouch pants are appropriate outside-the-house attire?’ but: ‘Where do you get your ideas?’

This is a toughie. It’s a question that, when answered honestly (at least, from my point of view) doesn’t normally meet with a positive, let alone grateful, response. I sometimes think that the questioner wants you to put one conspiratorial arm around their shoulders, slide your eyes from left to right and back to left again, hiss ‘are they following us?’ out of the corner of your mouth, and usher them away down some dark alley to explain, exactly, where the Ideas Guy hangs out and how much he charges.

If only the answer were that simple.

Nobody likes being told ‘I get my ideas out of my head. Where else would I get them?’ People like to think it’s easier than that, and that it involves less work than that. I sometimes think people are surprised when you give them this sort of answer, like they were expecting you to say something like: ‘Oh, my ideas? Well, sure. Every Monday morning I get a big, thick envelope in the post, and it’s stuffed full of juicy plot points, great character profiles, and about three hundred different choices of setting, narrative style, and voice. So, you know, I take what I want out of it, and I send the package on to the next writer on the list. Simple as that, really.’ I also wonder, sometimes, if the questioner is secretly hoping you’ll say something along the lines of ‘Wow – I’m surprised you have to ask. I get my ideas from you, of course! Why would I worry about using my imagination? I just write down everything that happens to you, and I’m all set.’

Well, I mean, sometimes this is true. Very interesting people do exist, and I’m sure those people have relatives who write, and who are constantly on the lookout for story ideas based on their escapades. Also, I do know some marvellously interesting people, and I’m related to several more. But I very rarely base anything I write on anything that actually happens to me – at least, not directly, and not without several ladlefuls of creative refashioning poured on.

There have been times when I’ve written something, be it a story or a blog post or whatever, and I’ve immediately had to start fielding phonecalls from my friends and family, all of whom are anxious to know who I based it on. If I so much as suggest that a husband character in a story is a bit of a nasty man, my own husband will appear, his ‘sad eyes’ on full power, wondering – cutely, I have to admit – whether he’s done something to irritate me. Mostly, he hasn’t (because he’s a sweetheart), but even if he had, I wouldn’t take my revenge through my words. Words last forever; a bad mood is momentary. It seems like overkill, doesn’t it?

Bits and pieces of my work exist in various places on the Interwebs, some of which deal with families or fraught relationships between people, and all the usual fictional fare, and I have been asked some strange, and slightly hurt, questions by dearly loved family members because of these pieces of writing. It can sometimes take me a while to work out what they’re so upset by. In my mind, of course, there’s no connection between what I’ve written and said family member.

Then, there are times when I have drawn on real life for inspiration; I’ve based loving characters on the wonderful traits I see in my own dear ones, and I’ve recreated happy family scenes which echo the contented and joyful upbringing I was lucky enough to have. I’ve written about deeply connected families, and strong parental figures, and giggling children. But nobody seems to care too much who all the happy stuff is based on. All they want to know about is the scandal – who the villain is, when the veneer of story has been stripped away, and whether an unsavoury character could possibly be based on them.

It never is. I’m not that stupid, you know.

Sometimes I wish it was as easy as looking around my family and friends, and stealing all their craziness, and writing about it, but it’s just not like that. I get my ideas out of my odd little head. I’m not constantly taking mental notes when I’m having tea with my aunties, or mining my personal correspondence for ideas for my next story. So, in short, what I’m saying is: feel free to speak freely around me. You’re not going to see a warty, horrible, snaggletoothed version of yourself showing up in any of my stories anytime soon. Because where would the challenge be in that?


Unrelated media of the day:

Amazon reviews for the Hutzler 571 Banana Slicer:

Teehee. Check out more awesome reviews here.

Categories: Guest Post | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

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