Who’s in charge?

I’m a planner. Sometimes I joke planster (I realize a chapter in my plan wasn’t detailed enough) but I”m a planner. Pantsers complain about the lack of excitement of planning, they forget that if you’re planning on being published, then you not only write the novel, you rewrite it, revise it, edit it, have someone else edit it, proof it again before the print it, etc. The excitement vanishes long before the end of the road.

So I plan. Another argument I get is ‘my characters want to do something else’. I don’t have this problem. Some people would say ‘you can’t just make the characters do something against their nature!’ but I’m not. I know my character’s nature, that’s why I planned the story this way.

This is the goal of those massive character questionnaires you see. Answer these questions and you will know your character. Your character no longer surprises you. One of my writing books even suggests that if a scene feels wrong, stop writing and return to the questions and figure out why the scene feels wrong.

New writers are convinced that when they make an outline they have to stick with it. They hit a blockage, the idea the outline will be ruined — which it rarely is, there’s always an alternate path to the goal — they don’t think about characterization. It wasn’t taken into account when the outline was written and it’s a surprise when it appears to derail the story.

Hypothetically,

Susan kills Mike. They hate each other and have a massive fight. Susan grabs the gun from the other room and shoots him.

But you never wrote them that way. They were always friendly, joking, there was no tension. The disagreement they have doesn’t seem major enough for Susan to grab a gun for.

So either you can rewrite the entire story to make the characters hate each other, a characterization that should have been thought of before, or you can change the scene to reflect the characters who are.

Susan and Mike are friends, but they have a heated argument while preparing dinner. Mike makes a threatening move; Susan reflexively stabs him with the carving knife.

There are a couple of nice things here. It’s an accident, so it doesn’t matter that they’re friends. The emotional toll is greater on Susan’s behalf because she’s just harmed a friend. If the attack was all that was needed, stab wounds are survivable, even more so than bullet wounds. If she’s lucky, Mike agrees it was an accident when questioned, and she doesn’t even go to court for it.

If he needs to die, then she happened to hit just the right part. Maybe she even made the mistake of removing the knife before the paramedics came. If this was always part of the plan and she hides the body, maybe the fact he was still alive and could have been saved becomes an important part of the story.

Ironically, I named this ‘who’s in charge’ but the answer isn’t you or them. They act as any person would act in their situation. That might make them ‘in charge’, but it doesn’t make them ‘in control’.

A Penny for Your Thoughts?