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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Asking Myself Some Serious Questions

desert island

While on my desert island recently, I was thinking that it might be fun to bring a writerly perspective to some of the more random, even philosophical questions I’ve been asked over the years. Some are pretty run of the mill; some have personal resonance and most have nothing, specifically, to do with writing. But I think they’re interesting enough to run a series of author interviews in the future. See what you think. Continue reading

For the Love of Books

As a fledgling writer I was advised that my reading pleasure would be ruined for ever; that I would minutely study everything I read, dissecting the dialogue, the use of language and vocabulary, the narrative style, to determine how it worked. I would treat every novel as a lesson. And I did, up to a point. For a newbie, it was a great way to learn. But I’m getting over that now. I still read a lot of fiction but I’m not obsessed with dismembering every book so I can scrutinise its inner workings in forensic detail. And I still learn a lot from my reading, that’s one of its pleasures. Facts I was previously unaware of, a novel approach to an everyday plot, the crafting of a story arc, I absorb it all. Some books are instantly forgettable; others stay in my head for a long time. Some take up permanent residence, and it’s these that I’d like to share with you. 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

New Year, New Growth

Gerbera

As I coaxed the Gerbera on my windowsill into bloom for a second time, I thought I should apply some of the same magic to my writing, and the New Year seemed a good time to think about setting some objectives for 2016. I don’t make resolutions that require any sort of denial – they’d be doomed to failure from the start, so Yes, I will still be eating the chocolate and drinking the wine – I’d much rather give myself goals that will enrich my writing life. Early in 2013 I wrote about using the SMART acronym for personal development. It fits well with this aspirational time of year, so I’ll roll it out again. Continue reading

Procrastination is the thief of time

A perfect storm. A new PC with an unfamiliar operating system, no internet connection and an awful lot of snow. What could possibly go wrong? Well, the shop had run out of Windows 8 for Dummies for a start. Couldn’t be better.

I’m not a computer expert and I appreciate that I need a modicum of understanding. Why should it be easy? I’ve read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and I know it behoves me to at least show willing, to get to grips with it, but perhaps not today. The lack of connectivity has given me an ideal opportunity to get some uninterrupted writing done and I shouldn’t ignore this gift. At least I’ve managed to upload all my files from the old computer so I’ve got something to work on. I’ve even managed to open a new document. I’m off and running.

Continue reading