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.