Friday, March 11, 2011

Scattered Thoughts, Hidden Future

Have you ever reached a point in your story when you are at a loss of what to do next? Which direction should your character go? Would your character stand and fight or turn and run? Maybe you have more than two decisions to choose between. Maybe you have quite a mess to sort out.

In my book, I hit a point where some sort of plan had to be hashed out about how to enter a town and not give away up front who my characters were. With no disguises available, something else had to be figured out. After getting a seemingly reasonable plan written down, I thought of a better one, so I had my characters discuss their options. Ultimately, they came up with a still better option, all of it written out. At the time, I didn't think much of it, but my editor complimented me on the tactic. He'd never seen the like before and he really liked it. It was the only compliment he gave me, but it meant a lot to me. He never told me he liked or disliked my story; he was merely doing his job. I felt that to win a compliment from him was indeed a win.

With that tiny bit of experience under my belt, I feel free to tell you to do the same. Hash out your options. It's okay to be confused. It happens to everyone at some point in their lives, and what do they do? They examine their options and pick the best one. Who knows they might think of something better along the way.

Of course, you don't want to spend pages and pages hashing out various options. Keep your time-line in mind. How much time do you have to make your decision? My characters had time, not a lot, but enough. If your character has only moments, he may only be able to weigh priorities - his life or that of his love and vow not to go down without a fight. Maybe hide now in order to be able to fight later is the only option, no matter how it rankles, because the alternative is to die now and accomplish nothing. Maybe your character comes to a crossroads and he has to choose which direction to go. Straight forward was the direction he had been going, but what is to the right and what is to the left? Should he explore these options or ignore them? What if he chose wrong and the enemy was able to sneak up behind him?

What would you do? For that is the ultimate question. Invariably, each of our characters is a tiny bit of ourselves; it's what allows us to fill them with life. As we must make decisions every day about what to do tomorrow, your characters must do the same thing. In fiction, these day-to-day decisions are skipped over, but sometimes it's okay to mull them around; it involves your reader in the problems your character worries about, it draws them in and involves your reader in the life of your character.

What problems does your character have to deal with?


S.M. Carrière said...

I usually leave it up to my characters to decide what to do. People (read here: some other authors) think I'm nuts when I say stuff like that, but ultimately, for me, these people live - at least until their story is told.

An author who came to speak at my school when I was just starting secondary school gave a piece of advice that I have never forgotten:

'If you find you're at a point where you, the narrator, can't move forward, walk away for a couple of days. By the time you sit down to write again, you'll have found that your characters have decided for you.'

It has never failed to work.

Anna L. Walls said...

Good advice, one I use sometimes too. But sometimes, hashing it through works too. I guess, it kinda depends on the character.

Sarah Butland said...

A very clever way of getting through the decision making process, letting your characters sort it out and increase your word count. I normally leave the story, write some others and go back to it but I'll try this way next time.

Thanks for sharing, Anna.

Anonymous said...

Interesting! I like the way you solved the problem in your story. Perhaps letting them hash it out, in their own voices, was your way of letting them lead you in the direction they wanted to go.

Kriti said...

Thank you Anna - love this helpful tip. I am faced with this situation many times and often end up disliking my characters altogether... at times like that I go to and fro with the options and then choose the one that looks best to me if I were the reader. Would love your opinion on my latest guest post at

Jacqui said...

Good post, Anna. We're at the same point in our writing--I'm also working through my characters.

Unknown said...

My characters seem to jump on my bed at night and keep me awake. It was as if I was Obsessed with them and I'd take them everywhere. Yes I know I sound a bit "mad hatter type". I just assumed I was to scattered so I put the book on the shelf but my characters still jump on the bed once in a while..

RoyalNirupam said...

Where is your school,Anna? Get me admitted there.lolol...
Actually it's very helpful for us,shall read it again.
Btw please check my latests.