Who Wins–me or my characters?

Most of life is a compromise, at least, for me. I’m a Libra. Sign of the scale. Always searching for a middle ground, a sense of balance. It’s no different with my writing. Did I mention I have a thing about security, too? Okay, that adds to the mix. That means that when I start a book, I need to feel like I can rev my engines at Point A, write for seven chapters and get a flat tire (or some other plot twist) in chapter 8, fix it and hit the road again, only to end up in a garage at the middle of the book. The middle means another fix, so that I can skid into the last breakdown three-fourths of my way to the finish. This time, the mechanic tells me that his fix either solves my problems or not. The last fourth of the book, bless it, pretty much knows where it’s been and how many miles it has to go. It knows, too, that it will probably end up in a mad derby with lots of crashes at the big, final battle, but it can limp home. Knowing those key plot points gives me courage. Writing 28 plot points, like I did for the new book I just started, gives me security.

My plot points are just dots on a map that my characters have to reach. I give them sketchy directions and wish them the best. That’s where the give-and-take comes in. I have ideas on how my characters will get to each spot. I can see Brody helping his brother convert a wing of his lodge into four guest suites. I can see Harmony staying at the lodge to finish her book and meet her deadline. I know they’ll bump into each other and sparks will fly. But did I know that Brody would trudge through the snow to rescue a duck? Nope, didn’t have a clue, not until he told me that he and Ian had to take care of the family dog when they were growing up, and they loved that dog. He can’t stand by and let an animal suffer if he can help it. I didn’t see that scene coming. Do I care? No, because Brody got to Point F on his map. He just didn’t do it the way I expected. But it caused the result I was looking for–Harmony looks at Brody in a new way. If, however, Brody decided to take a side trip and skip Point F altogether and change the direction of the story, then Brody and I would have to have words. And I’m not afraid of him. If he doesn’t go to Point F, my new minor character–an ambulance driver–will take him there.

I know I’ve talked about plotting more than usual lately. It’s because that’s what I’ve been working on, but I’m finally past it. Hopefully, my mind will be on something different for my next post. Suggestions are welcome.

I have friends whose stories are character driven, and I admire their work. They create their characters and plot a Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, then give their characters free will. It works for them. It wouldn’t work for me. I don’t trust my characters that much. Hell, I don’t trust myself that much. It would feel like I was driving cross-country, blindfolded, just meandering from one place to another. My friends don’t have that problem. Their inner compass guides them, but I can get lost in a big hotel. When my husband and I feel adventurous and take off for rides, he drives and always knows if we’re going north, heading east, or taking a diagonal. I never know where the heck I am. I have no sense of direction, so I need a road map. And some security. I don’t always need 28 plot points, but I sure don’t mind having them. I’ll have less chance of getting lost.

Oh, and BTW, have a wonderful holiday, whether you celebrate Passover or Easter or a blissful day to relax.


9 thoughts on “Who Wins–me or my characters?

  1. I’ve spent too many years in the passenger seat- letting my characters drive. Enough! I say! It’s time to learn to plot. And thanks to your wonderful posts, I can see how it’s done. I love that you have things set up. I love that the characters steer you off course. I love that you take that fork and bring things back to where you want them to be. Bravo, Judy! This other Libra is learning the balance between plotting and panstering.


  2. It’s always fascinating to hear how others work. Writing is such a personal process. For me, I had to learn what worked. Classes and study helped very little. It was sitting down, writing, bumbling around in order to identify the process. That’s me, a slow learner.


  3. I was a slow learner, too. I tried and tried to do the Goal, Motivation, Conflict charts for each character and build story arcs, and I failed at all of it. That’s why I enjoy hearing what other writers do, because each person has tweaked it into something that works for him/her, and sometimes, it inspires some new, nifty things for me to try.


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