Who’s in charge anyway?


“There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.”  Willa Cather

This quote was introduced to me during a class,  Creating Rich Characters, taught by the talented author and illistrator, Angela Sage Larsen.  Ms. Larsen is becoming a St. Louis icon who has published numerous children and young adult books.  You can check her out at AngelaSageLarsen.com

There is comfort in knowing that every story has the same infrastructure, a beginning, middle and end.  What makes the difference is the writer’s ability to develop interesting characters and present a plot that takes the reader on an unexpected journey.

There have been many posts in reference NANOWRIMO recently. One in particular that caught my eye dealt with whether or not to develop an outline before initiating a novel.

For me, I can live without an outiline, although I often scribble notes that come out looking like one.  It is more important to decide what my main character wants more than anything else.  There must be an objective, otherwise there is no need to write the book.

Once that is clear in my head, I need to know the obstacles that will create conflict for the character while in pursuit of the prize, otherwise the story is boring. Finally,I must decide whether or not the character will achieve his or her goal.

I tend to write stories where ultimate happiness or contentment is the goal.  There may be plenty of action to keep the reader interested, but I’m a sap for happy endings.

If I have done my homework in identifying what my character wants,  how he or she will react when challenged and how the story will end, the characters take it from there.  Some writers say it is best to write the ending first.  I haven’t attempted that yet, but I might some day.

What do you think?  Do your characters take charge?

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2 thoughts on “Who’s in charge anyway?

  1. I think that characters have to be consistent to be believable, and I have had the experience of suddenly realizing that the plot I had outline calls for a character to do something completely, well, out of character. When that happens, I tend to change the plot, but then my outlines are usually very sketchy and tentative anyway.

    A more plot-driven writer might go back and rework the character, changing her or him to make the necessary action more consistent, or might add in additional elements to make the action more plausible.

    For example, suppose one was writing a heist, and the plot called for a doublecross by Bob, the safecracker. Unfortunately, along the way the author has written Bob as a honorable man, and the doublecross comes across seeming false.

    One solution is to change the plot–make a different character pull the cross, or else not have it at all, and come up with a different mid-point crisis (an off duty police officer walking into the bank to make a deposit at the worst possible time, say.)

    Another solution is to go back and rewrite Bob’s character and make him a little more edgy and less of a standup guy–give some hints that he’s capable of such a maneuver.

    A third solution would be to give Bob an aging mother who desperately needs an expensive operation, to use Bob’s basic good nature to back him into a corner where he sees the doublecross as his only solution.

    Personally, I tend to go with the option that involves the least rewriting, which is why I tend to pitch the plot out the window at the first snag. Other people (less lazy than me) have a plan and stick to it, even when it means going back and changing things to keep it on track.

    Just my thoughts.

  2. I must be lazy too. By the end of chapter two, my secondary character took me in a new direction. Can’t wait to see what happens next. I think that’s the best part of writing, the creativity and unexpected results. Thanks for sharing

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