Blog Post 14
My struggle is fighting the instinct for my characters to become “plot puppets.” I have this great plot in my mind—and yet, I know when I’m forcing my characters into that story line because that’s when my writing feels flat and unauthentic. Yes, it’s positively painful.
My characters are always right.
I’m reminded of the saying “Happy wife. Happy life.” And I suppose I should concede to “Happy Characters. Good story.”
I try to reassure myself by thinking of stories I’ve enjoyed. Books I’ve read all the way to the end verses the ones I shelveunfinished. I recall movies I don’t mind watching repeatedly opposed to the movies that make me want those two hours of my life back. The difference, of course—It’s character.
Upon closer examination of the stories, the plots are pathetically simple. A Few Good Men—two marines kill a third and are on trial. It’s the character arc of Daniel Caffey (Tom Cruise) that keeps us engaged. Oppose this to The Gambler (with MarkWalburg) where life and limb is on the line for the Walburg, and yet I could care less. Both movies feature outstanding performances from A list actors, but that isn’t enough for The Gambler. Walburg’s character (whose name I don’t even remember) motioned through the script to get to the ‘dramatic end’ of a single bet on roulette. I could’ve skipped the two hours in-between and went right to the wheel. Okay, ball landed black, or maybe it was red. In any event, he lived. Check please. I’m sure you’re thinking of a hundred such examples—damn those fancy movie trailers.
In my current project, the simple librarian has rewritten my story. Oddly, I took a great deal of thought as to who I wanted this librarian to be—even though the librarian should be a very minor character. My first idea was a lesbian librarian, but the character walked onto my page as a rickety old man. With a past. I couldn’t move on with my story until he told me about it. He pushed up his long ragged sleeve to reveal the six tattooed numbers of Auschwitz. A man who was once a Priest. A man who was once in love with my main character’s mother. Atormented soul who tried to save children from the fires of hell only to be betrayed. Now, there’s a story.
The only problem is—that wasn’t the story I intended to write. I was writing a bully revenge story about a Gypsy girl with special powers. But, even she isn’t cooperating with this idea and is spending way too much time in the library.
As I let go of my precious plot, and give my characters more and more reign, I fear I may never finish this story. What if they keep changing their minds? What if they take me down a path that is endless? What if the rabbit hole is just that?
And to my writing group I bring my precious, tortured pages. “Yes this is working” they say to the parts the characters wrote and “This is a little contrived” they say to mine. “This part excited me,” they continue where my characters took flight and “I get a little lost here” to where I pushed plot yolks back into broken egg shells.
Writing the back story helped tremendously. My characters let me see where they were coming from and therein included me intheir journey moving forward. I also outlined the 15 plot beats from the template of ‘Save the Cat’. These two exercises gave me peace—by reminding me of my honor in crafting the story. Characters and plot can no more lay next to each other and make a story then can water and flour sit in a bowl and make a pancake.
As the artist, I stir and season, blend and mix. I choose the temperature and the bake time. Presenting my creation, I hope it is endlessly enjoyed.