Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The New Kid in My Head

A character came up to me Saturday and introduced himself.

That's how characters are sometimes. You're writing along and suddenly a character will do something you had no intention of them doing, had never thought about. But you realize that's exactly what the character would really do, based on how you've written him or her. And if you're being honest in your writing you let the character do that even if it conflicts with the plot you had in mind. If you force the characters into actions that conflict with the kind of person you've created just to fit the constraints of the preconceived plot, it won't work. We've all read books like that, where the characters were cutouts moving mindlessly in response to the writer's plot devices. They're always disappointing.

Usually you think you know how the story's gonna go, and usually you're right. You are the author, after all. But sometimes it's a complete surprise. And as a writer, when the characters jump up and surprise you, that's when you know it's working. Go with it. Its actually very exhilarating.

I think of my plots as a road map. If I'm going to drive from Los Angeles to Tampa, I want to have a general idea of the roads and directions. But don't become a slave to the map. If the characters decide to take the scenic route or detour through Indiana, you've got to be willing to go there with them. And if you've created characters that become real, that are reacting plausibly to the situations you create for them, you have to be willing to listen when they say, "Nope, not going to Tampa. We're heading for Vermont." You might decide to still go to Tampa but you've got to listen to what the characters are telling you about your story. Sure, you thought it up, but they're living in it.

Well, the problem with this character that showed up Saturday is I've never met him, he's not in the current story or the next one I've already got some notes on. He's in a completely different story. Yet there he was, suddenly in my head. I could seem him clearly, 11 years old, a little on the short side, average build, with short, curly brown hair, glasses, and a cocky grin that's almost a permanent fixture on his face. And I knew his story. His name told me his whole story.

This kid is pretty insistent. I don't want to tell his name yet, want to let it stew a bit. But he won't go away. I talked to Tori about him and she had a great idea.

I'm going to finish the first draft of Bones, that oughta take another month, six weeks. Then I'll put it aside, give it room to breathe before I start the rewrite. In the meantime, I'll work on this kid's story. And I'm going to write it in one month. 30 days. See if the self-imposed deadline forces me to open up. I have a tendency to overwrite the first draft. I'm gonna see if I can just pound this one out, lean and sharp.

If nothing else, it will be an interesting challenge. And if it takes 37 days instead of 30, no big deal. It's not a contest, just an idea for a book.

But that's enough for now. Got to get back to The Bones in the Closet. I sound like I have the attention span of a hummingbird, but in fact I'm trying to be disciplined here.

I just need that kid to shut up and go away for a little while. He's really pushy.



  1. You mate, are an excellent writer! ;)

  2. Kind of you to say. Looking forward to you actually getting the chance to read one of the novels.