On Following Your Characters


Started my next novel six years ago. Still hard to believe it was that long ago. Spent almost two years researching, building characters and scenes and a story board. Then, I broke all the rules that I’ve been teaching my writing students for 10 years and wrote myself into a brick wall. Took a few years off to study photography and almost gave up on writing altogether, except for a few short stories and some poems that I managed to trick a few editors and magazines to publish. (HINT: Pretend you know how to write…they fall for it every time.)

Something strange happened during that time off, something that I tell my students will happen. And it happened. Regardless of me writing the story on my laptop, the story kept writing itself in the back of my head. Last fall, I started going to a local coffee shop (Reads) and came back to the novel. I managed to salvage one short chapter from the initial attempt and tried to follow the original story board. But, like I said, the story was writing itself in the back of my head…by the characters. And they started writing the story on their own. I just had to move my fingers across the keyboard

It was kind of cool. I didn’t have a clue what I was going to write each evening. I just followed the characters and let them go where they wanted, do what they wanted and say what they wanted. They had a lot more story in them than I did. Their words flowed like turkey gravy into the manuscript. Night after night was surprise after surprise.

One problem..

…I had no idea how it was going to end. That was the problem with the first attempt. I never write even the first sentence until I know how the story ends. It gives me something to write towards, even if I change the ending to match the journey towards it

But, in this novel, I was dumbfounded when it came to how to end it. There were so many possibilities, but none of them worked in a way that would bring the story to and end that would make sense and be fair to all seven main characters. Yep, seven main characters telling their own stories surprise after surprise, and me wondering how the hell they were going to end it

Well, this week, they did it. They showed me the way…and what a surprise that was. It was complicated at hell and I almost ran into another block, but I kept if going…trusting that the characters knew what they were doing.

And they did.

I sat at Reads today and finished the first part of the ending. Remember now…it has to end for seven people in such a way that it ends sensibly and well for all of them. But the first part just threw up a thousand more questions. I went home and ate something. No…wait a minute…I went home to eat something but I didn’t. Instead, I opened myself to the characters and went back to Reads and wrote the second part of the ending. And everything fell into place. Everything made sense. I know exactly how to finish this novel. It’s going to be another ten or so pages. The page and word count at this point don’t mean a thing. I know how it’s going to end.

I should have this novel finished within the next week or two. Well, the first draft. And then the real writing starts.

To the characters in this novel, thank you for leading me through a wonderful and constantly surprising experience. I love you folks.

Oh, I’m a photographer as well, so this post is accompanied by a gratuitous image of a purple plant. If it were growing out of a piece of pavement, it would be related to this novel, but it’s not. Gratuitous.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s