Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Who's In Charge?

Well, here I am again, after a long hiatus. Way longer than I wanted it to be, due to events that spiraled away from my grasp once I left my son’s home, where I was visiting and started this blog. Half of it is because I just don’t understand technology, and couldn’t figure out on my own how to log back in to post. The other half is because I’d rather hide my head in the sand instead of facing the unknown and learning how to log in to the dashboard. Mea culpa.
No more. Tonight I’m fired up. From now on, now that I know how to get into my blog (Thank You, Debra!), I will do my darndest to set forth my 1,000 words of semi-wisdom each week. After all, I do have a rep to live up to, right?
It hasn’t been all lilacs and roses, bonbons and relaxation. I now have three (count ‘em, three) suspense books ready to start peddling, plus another that’s beginning to go through the critique process. And a fantasy novel that’s in major rewrite, since a new character popped up after I’d finished it, wouldn’t you know? And I’ve entered and won in a couple of writing contests, too. So, I’ve at least been busy while being silent. But there’s fly in the ointment—or is it a rub? (Thanks, Willie S.) To get my books out I’ve more technology to learn. Rats!
I’ve also been teaching writing classes each week to eight very talented SLO NightWriters members, a group mixed in both sexes and ages. The topic today was, “Who’s In charge?” which is, I suppose, what started this train of thought—and this need to post again. I realized that I haven’t allowed myself to be in charge of my own blog for months!
There are two schools of thought on who is in charge of a story. The first says it’s the writer who is in charge. It’s your story, you are the author. You are the one who decides what happens when, to whom. You devise the plot, you throw in the twists. A good outline will keep you on the right track to the end. 
We’ve all read advice like this from published authors and writing teachers, or taken classes where this view is expounded. It sounds logical. And right. I mean, if the author is the one who has the idea and is doing the writing, he/she has to be in charge, right?
Then what about those writers—like me—whose characters “take over” the story and dictate events? What about writers—like me—who start with the mere inkling of an idea and let the story flow where it will, merely following with pen in hand, a scribe taking dictation along the journey? That’s the second school of thought on who is in charge of a story. It’s the way I work best. I rarely outline more than a chapter or two ahead, because by the time I get there, the characters have taken over and veered the story in another direction.
It happened especially at the end of my novel, Tangled Webs. I wanted a different ending. My female protagonist refused to go there. And I was stuck until I bowed to her wishes.
So, who is in charge of your story? Simple answer: No matter how you work, by outline or instinct, you are in charge. The difference is in the way our brains work. Some need the structure of an outline, a linear progression that takes in all the highlights (and even some semi-lights) along the way. Structure opens their creativity. Others thrive on unexpected twists and surprising turns, allowing their instincts room to find the right path. Unlimited possibilities opens their creativity.
But know this: even when your characters take over a story and tell you what they will and won’t do, you are still in charge. In fact, it’s actually your subconscious taking over and directing the flow, in the guise of the characters. That is why it’s imperative to know your characters thoroughly, even better than you know yourself. When you know your characters to the core, it allows your conscious to step aside and lets the story flow through your subconscious. Instinctive writing.
So, next time you’re stuck, or the words seem to be made of molasses and they just won’t flow, take a step back and ask your characters (your subconscious) what they want to do and see what happens. Trust your instincts. It might be scary at times, but it’s always exciting.

Post total: 770 words
Week total: 770 words
Still needed: 230 words

Running Total: 2,675 Words

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