Should I Let My Characters Write Their Own Ending?

Who says exercise is useless? I may not be losing any weight but my brain is definitely benefiting. During my swim this morning I had a brilliant idea for a subplot in my WIP. The new story line slid easily into place, with all the attendant connections and foreshadowing (was I dreaming? This doesn’t usually happen to me) and I couldn’t wait to get out of the pool and make some notes (my memory isn’t to be relied upon these days). This is doubly important because the novel has recently hit the buffers. It’ll mean a bit of rewriting, but it’s so worth it. But I digress…

I’ve previously written about the end point – whether to plan the ending of your novel and work towards it, or leave it to the whim of your characters – and I’ve found quotes from experienced writers on both sides of the argument. You can read my previous comments here. I made my decision, and in the last few months, following my own advice, I’ve been trying to work towards a known ending. But it’s just not working.

Let’s back up a minute. My novel was in the doldrums; I’d gone so far but couldn’t progress. Paddling about in the shallows; tweaking here and there and getting precisely nowhere. Until I had another look at the story line and made a major, shocking twist to the ending. It changed everything. It spurred me on and I couldn’t write fast enough to get there. For a while, anyway. Then I started to get tangled up with how to move my characters to this new conclusion, when they were making it pretty obvious they didn’t want to go.

Over the years I’ve written myself into many a corner or dead end, sometimes having to ditch hours, days, of work to get myself out of a situation that wasn’t going anywhere, so this wasn’t too much of a surprise. But this time, no matter how many times I went back and changed thoughts, feelings and events so they engaged properly with this precious new ending, the characters resisted. They just wouldn’t play ball. They wouldn’t fit willingly into the straitjacket I’d created for them.

I’ve always known my characters had lives and minds of their own; that they would go their own way regardless of what I thought, and usually I give them their head for a while, before dragging them back to the script. Kicking and screaming if needs be. But it’s never been as bad as this before.

This time they are point-blank refusing to cooperate.

In an effort to understand their reluctance I went back to my original character studies. I had thought long and hard about the main characters, given them back stories, traits and mannerisms, beliefs and opinions, and it soon became obvious where I was going wrong.

Before they’d even hit the page I’d created personas for this gang of people. I knew how they behaved, how they would react in various circumstances, how they would interact with each other, before a word had been written.

Then I proceeded to ignore everything I’d discovered.

And therein lies the problem. I was trying to force these personalities into situations they would never have contrived for themselves and would certainly not be happy in pursuing. No wonder they were reluctant, dragging their feet like recalcitrant teenagers. They weren’t just being awkward. They wouldn’t fit into this new scenario because they hadn’t been programmed to expect or accept it.

They want to earn their ending and this isn’t it.

I will have to listen to them.  

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Writing the Kinks Out

Are you the sort of person who listens to music that reflects your current mood and reads novels that imitate your life, or do you prefer your listening and reading choices to challenge the status quo? I’m certainly in the former camp: I want mournful music when I’m anxious or depressed; uplifting tunes when I’m happy. I don’t want to be cajoled out of my sulk; I want to wallow. My reading material has to mirror my current frame of mind and, if I’m going through a particularly blue period, it should suggest an escape, or a way forward.

Committing thoughts to diaries and journals is an established method of exorcising our demons. Writing negative feelings on a sheet of paper, wrapping it round a stone and throwing it into the sea or off a cliff is still a popular way of ridding ourselves of bad vibes, so could the same effect be gained from writing fiction? Just as we use reading novels and listening to music as therapy, can we use writing to ease the kinks out of our lives? Continue reading

Changing the Landscape

For a variety of reasons I’ve been having a funny old time, writing-wise, just lately. The old mojo seems to have packed its trunk and run away to the circus. I didn’t invite me along, though I think I’d be pretty good on the trapeze, so rather than sit around feeling sorry for myself, gazing gormlessly into space, I’ve been doing something worthwhile.

I’ve been writing in my head. Continue reading

The Gift of Time

I’ve recently been given a gift.

We’ve managed to get my mother-in-law booked into day care for two days a week. Mum lives with us and suffers from acute Alzheimer’s but anyone who is responsible for an ageing relative will understand what this turn of events really means.  I have been presented with that most valuable of commodities – long, uninterrupted tracts of time. I can hardly believe it. Continue reading

A Word of Encouragement

arvon-note1Sorting out the vast amount of paper that regularly accumulates in my writing room can be a very time-consuming task, not least because I do like to re-read what I’m about to throw away (well, you never know, do you?) During one epic clearance I came across this little missive. Continue reading

Things I’ve Learned Along the Way

christmas-cactus2After a rather bruising journey to the publication of my second novel, my writing mojo has gone temporarily AWOL, so I thought I’d step away from my current project for a while and look back on my writing odyssey instead. This is a rewrite of an old post but the advice is still relevant.

In my experience, writing isn’t a life choice like exercise, or dieting, or what colour your hair should be this week. We don’t decide to become writers any more than we decide to become a man or a woman (well, most of us, anyway). By the time we’re ready to make such a conscious decision, writing has already made the choice for us. It’s a compulsion: innate, instinctive and as inevitable as death and taxes.

Here’s what I’ve learned thus far. Continue reading

Who do you think you’re talking to?

writing-deskWriting is quite a solitary experience. Even when you’re writing in a library or crowded coffee shop you’re not exactly inviting people to sit down and chat. You don’t want to be interrupted, torn from your story and required to make conversation; all you want to do is explore that really important plot development you’ve just thought up. The folk on your wavelength give you a wide berth, appreciating your need to be alone. And you’re grateful for the solitude.

So why is it that after a long day with only the notebook or keyboard for company, you feel exhausted, intellectually drained, fit only for an evening vegetating in front of the television? Continue reading