Thursday, July 30, 2009

Letting your characters tell their story

OK, caveat here. In case you missed it in the comments section for Tuesday's post, I sliced my hand open on a tuna fish can on Tuesday. This means comments and blog posts will be shortened as typing doesn't always go so well. So bear with me. The stitches have to be in for two weeks and it hurts like the dickens if I move my thumb and index finger too much. (Also will account for typos and misspellings should they occur.)

Noah Lukeman's book The Plot Thickens is essentially all about characters.

Not plot, characters.

That seems a novice like me.

Then I had the realization that what he was saying was that our characters should be so real to us that they'll take over their own story. And they'll appeal to our readers all the more for it and the plot will be richer for it.

Of course, we do have to wrangle them sometimes and keep them on the more complex plot we've outlined or determined for them. But sometimes they surprise you and give you the best laugh of the whole writing process by taking over the story and their own actions.

Example. The following is an excerpt from my novella currently titled "A Rose By Any Other Name." It's the story of a young woman, in her mid- to late-twenties who gets published and decides to publish under a pseudonym. She is able to create an entire new identity for her author self. This excerpt is a scene wherein she is meeting with another author with her same editor. Her editor had to leave town suddenly and asks my MC to meet with this other author in order to help him decode the mysterious symbols she uses in the MS she sends back to this new author. They're having lunch and the characters both took over from me and I laughed harder in this scene than in any other. Without further ado:

Emilia headed off to the Hard Rock Café on the other end of Times Square. Jeremiah was standing in the entry waiting. He was surprised to see Emilia walk up.

“Miss Parker,” he said. “I was not expecting to see you here.”

“Please, call me Cara. Gloria called. An emergency has taken her out of town. She asked me to meet with you today instead and answer any questions you may have.”

“Oh, I see. Well, her loss is my gain.” The hostess led them to a table in the middle of the dining area. They looked at their menus for a time before their server came to take their order.

“I will have a garden burger, no cheese, with pickle, onion, tomato, lettuce, ketchup and mustard, and a water, please,” Jeremiah said when asked for his order.

“And for you, hon?” their server asked.

“Bacon cheeseburger with cheddar, no pickle, no mayo, a virgin pina colada, and a water. Oh, can I get a side of mayo and an empty condiment dish?”

“Sure, hon.” Their server took their menus and left.

Don't ask me why it made me laugh so hard, but it did. And this was truly one of those small moments where my characters took charge of their own decisions. And I personally feel that, while this is really only the first draft of this novella, this moment is one which enriches my characters and story more than any moment I could have planned.

OK, hand hurting so I'm going to stop now.


  1. hahahah great excerpt.

    and, yes, I love it when my characters take over and surprise me. not all of them do, but when it happens it is quite nice :)

  2. LoL no mayo witha side of mayo. Love it!

  3. Oh, good, you liked the excerpt. I was totally braced for the "You're a horrible writer" comments! Thanks for that.

    It is so fun when they take over.


  4. Very interesting! This is like the fourth or fifth post I've read today about this subject. Maybe it's a sign.

  5. I love when this happens. I'll get to the end of a scene and realize that I wrote something totally different than what I intended. And the explanation is inevitably--well, that's what the characters wanted to do.

  6. I've been down that road before: you have a story in your head and the character speaks louder than the story itself. I am also looking for follwers of my blog. Could you please visit and comment on some of my posts at ? Thanks. I'm a writer too, so I'm trying to get my voice heard. Please follow if you like!

  7. Aww, sad about your hand! I hope it heals quickly. What a fun idea for a story! I've never attempted a novella, but I'd like to sometime. It sounds so much better than 100k right now!

    My characters have finally taken over on my novel. It's pretty great!

  8. Thanks! It's feeling a lot better already but it will just take time to heal.

    That's so exciting about your characters! It's really the best feeling in the world!

  9. Great post. And I'm so impressed that you typed all that with a sliced open hand!

  10. Thanks. It was hunt and peck with the left hand. But now the major bandaging is off so typing goes a bit easier.

    Now you guys are making me want to revise this story I excerpted from here and try to get it published.


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