November 12, 2010
What happens when your characters or your code take over your story?
You have some sort of plan. Maybe you’re writing a how-to book and you know what it is you want to teach or maybe you’re writing a mystery and you know whodunit and how they will be found out.
Whatever type of book you are writing, as you start to write, the elements of your book will start to assert themselves and try to take the book in a different direction than you intended it to go.
Listen to them.
Really, you’re just listening to yourself. As you write, the characters and code are springing from your own head. It’s easy, however, as you fully immerse yourself in the emerging story to lose that perspective. It will seem as if these elements have a life of their own and are taking over to some extent.
You are still the adult in charge, but you may discover something new by following their lead for a bit.
I know. This whole thing seems like an adventure in multiple personalities. To a certain extent it is. Everything you write about are different manifestations of you.
Recently I launched a podcast that ships (mostly) weekly. There are two voices in the podcast that, I suppose, represent different sides of me. As I write the podcast each week I start with an issue that I want to present and often one of the two characters argues me out of the position I thought I had. I end up making a point that is very different from the point I set out to make.
I love this exploration and have learned to give the characters their head and follow their lead. Sometimes I have to abandon a script as it’s run into a blind alley and can’t be saved (hence the weeks off) but mostly I end up learning something myself.
You’re in charge of what you write but let the characters or the code lead you in different directions now and then. You’ll be surprised and pleased at the results.
It’s the way members of an improv work. You’re on stage and someone throws something out. You are not to fight or ignore it. You should build on it. Look at ways to say “yes, and …”