letting the characters lead where they may

When I first read The French Lieutenant’s Woman, I was delighted and astounded by Fowle’s willingness to communicate with the reader about the vagaries of his characters. In footnotes, sometimes. This woman insists on going down to the Cobb (or things to that effect).

This weekend I’ve been letting one of my characters take over. He’s thinking a lot on the page, which is something I generally try to discourage or at least limit. But John Dodge wanted his autonomy and so he went jogging and I followed along listening to him think and taking dictation. Some odd things came out as a result. Not bad things, but surprising. At the same time I could feel Julia watching. Standing in the window of her apartment, arms crossed, humming with anxiety. Worried about what I was going to try to make her do.

So tomorrow I have this sense that she’s going to want to take over. Her turn. I’m kind of curious about where she’ll go and what will happen, and I’m trying to resist the urge to remind these two about deadlines and moving forward. Because they know all that. I don’t need to tell them anything, I need to listen.

Do other writers have this same experience? Some of them obviously do, as was the case with Fowles. Stephen King has written about this same kind of experience. He said (and I’m paraphrasing) you push the story — and sometimes it pushes back. King is also the guy who has written schizophrenic authors, authors with split personalities, and authors showing up as characters in their own novels (as he did in Song of Susannah).

It seems as though authors (or at least some authors) get more hung up in the creative process than painters or sculptors or composers. At least, I don’t imagine that a painter stands there and waits for the painting to tell her things, or in that case, show her things.

Giving myself a headache here.

3 Replies to “letting the characters lead where they may”

  1. Sometimes when I’m writing,I get that” Tiger by the tail” feeling and all I can do is hang on and let the story go where it will. Kinda simular,but with less control. Looking forward to the day where I have SOME control over the “Tiger”:D

  2. I always say that it’s the characters that are living the story — I’m just listening to the voices in my head. They tell me what to write — and I do it (they are very persuasive). There are times when their voices are very dim and I have to strain a bit to hear them. Other times, they are so loud that I must write what they say immediately (they seem to always know when I can’t get to the computer, though, bless them). There are even times when I sit back and say, “Well, now, I didn’t know that!” And if that won’t make you crazy, nothing will.

  3. Lynn, I grinned at your comment’if that won’t make you crazy, nothing will.’.

    I got in to a standoff with one of my main characters and she won.

    I had written such a journey more than half the book for Jenny to *finally* remarry after losing her first husband to cancer and immediately after the wedding she started to have a serious argument with her husband of one hour. I sat at my desk and argued out loud with a character’s words on a piece of paper. (crazy?)

    Me: “We’ve come all this way to get you remarried and now you up and want to have a fight with your brand new newlywed hubby. No way! You ever heard of make love not war?”

    Jenny: “Well if you wont’ write it the way I say it then I’ll just quit talking to you.”

    Jenny: (nearly two weeks of silence)

    Me: “Sigh. Okay. Uncle. Tell me again and this time I’ll listen.”

    Turned out I really liked the scene the way Jenny played it out. Makeup sex for the first consummation. (blush) My oh my! *I* would have never thought of it that way. But then I’m not the one writing the story. I’m just the court reporter taking dictation.

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