Friday, May 8, 2009

Why I Love Writing - Part IV

Unlike yesterday, I had a very productive morning. I started by catching up on all my email, moved right into contacting my security software provider to fix a problem with my system’s firewall, which they repaired in under thirty minutes, and by 9 a.m. I was editing the novel I’ve been nurturing for the past several months. The novel effectively managed to pull me into the story while still paying close attention to editing the prose, which brings me to today’s topic of why I love writing novels.

In addition to spending time with my husband, there are two pastimes that I very much love – traveling to foreign countries and writing stories. I love those two activities for the same reason, they allow me to immerse myself in an alien culture and allow me to interact with diverse and sometimes strange people. The advantage writing has over traveling is that it’s way cheaper and it allows me to control every aspect of the journey. I control who lives and who dies, what they do, every word they speak and how the world reacts to them. And if I don’t like the tangent that my characters have gone off on or the new twist in the plot or a million other details, I can rewind and do it over. In fact, what normally happens is that I keep doing everything over and over until I think I can no longer improve it (which is a trick of the ego because stories can always be improved). In my stories I’m God, and it’s fun playing God.

But one of the interesting things about long fiction is, once I set all the parameters, define the main characters, the story’s direction and established the pacing, a funny thing happens: even though I’m God and have the final say, my characters begin to make decisions on their own, regardless of my original intentions, like Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit. Once the characters and storyline establish themselves, they take on a life of their own, and I’m there going along for the ride. That’s another joy of writing (like traveling), that feeling of discovery. I, of course, can overrule my characters and keep them on the straight and narrow, but I’ve learned to listen to my characters, to let them tell their stories, err … I mean my story … or is it their story?

The funny thing is, that’s when I know the story is good, when it comes to life. So I keep adding my two cents, but I also try to keep my ego in check, so that my characters can find their own way.

No matter what I’m doing, there is always a little back and forth tussle going on in my head between me and my characters. They whisper to me, I argue back. They insist, I stamp my foot. They plead, I give in. It’s that dance I was talking about in an earlier post, the dance with Creativity. It doesn’t only happen when I’m sitting in front of the computer composing prose. It goes on all the time, and I love it.


Karen Brees said...

Alan, you have honed in on a topic that all fiction writers can identify with. Characters do take on a life of their own and while we try to keep to the outline, they seem to take control. So true.

Linda Suzane said...

I really like the idea of characters being like Adam and Eve, that is so true. They eat of the fruit of the tree and off the story goes.

Jina Bacarr said...

You're right, Alan, it's a dance--like a tune you can't forget. It's always reverberating in your head.

Thoughtful post, enjoyed it.


Alexis Grant said...

Way to go! Put those characters in their place!

Elle Parker said...

I got into a fight with my father about this (he's also a writer) - he's absolutely convinced that characters can NEVER take on a life of their own, and sites Janet Evanovich as a proof positive because she doesn't think so either, and she sells books, so she's doing it RIGHT.

Personally, I'm with you - I love it when that happens, it's exciting as all hell

Elle Parker

Karen Walker said...

I love hearing about the world of fiction writers and what it's like for them. If I ever do sit down to write the novel swimming around in my head, I hope the characters take on a life of their own. That would be so cool!


AlanChinWriter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AlanChinWriter said...

Thanks to all who were thoughtful enough to leave comments. This topic is one that fascinates me, because I have no way to explain it, it is beyond logic, yet I see it happening whenever I write.
I like to think of it as one of life's joyful mysteries.

Happy that you all enjoyed the post as were able to add to it with your own experiences. Thank you all.