In the course of nine published novels, a novella, about a dozen published shorts, and innumerable unpublished bits and pieces (read: crap and trunk work) I’ve never had a character go rogue on me. I am not one of those writers who “channels” the story or character from my subconscious. You’ll never hear me say “the characters are real people and they tell me their story–I just write it down” or anything like that. I control what I do and where the story ultimately goes and what happens to the characters. I’m not a subconscious writer, not much of a “pantser.” I’m God when I write. My creation does as I say it shall. This is how it goes:
Me: [makes lovely plot] Character, goest thou here and doest thou this at this time.
Character: [makes the huh, who me? face] What’s my motivation?
Me: [rolls eyes] Characters… Thy motivation shall be [such]. So do I speak it, so shall it be.
Character: Okey-dokey. I’m good with that. [Goes and does as directed at manuscript Point X and all is well with the narrative.]
Me: Okay.. what’s next…?
And so it goes. Until this most recent novel project.
No matter what I do, one of the main characters just insists on being who and what he is and nothing seems capable of changing him, his mind, his trajectory, or his sneaky little inner self. He’s an asshole. He’s stubborn. He’s self-possessed. He’s recalcitrant. I adore him (the rat-bastard.) He’s a problem.
Most of the time things work out pretty well–he’s a workhorse, he never quits, his motives are as clear to us both as the water in Lake Crescent (and if you haven’t see that, I recommend taking a look at the photo below–the lake’s depth is currently unknown, but the water is so clear you’d swear that bit’s only 2 feet when it’s 12 or more because those are tree branches and boulders down there, not sticks and rocks.)
Lake Crescent bottom. Allegory of character mind–you can see the bottom, but you can’t change it.
I come to a decision or action point and I know what he will do and how and why. There’s no problem. And yet when I decided he needed not to do something, he dug in his metaphorical heels. He simply won’t change. Nothing works to make him be as I’ve decreed and do what I want. It comes out illogically and inherently impossible, breaking the story and the character catastrophically. This is how things go with Him:
Me: Go there, do that.
He: Fine. You know why I do this, yes?
Me: Uh-huh. ‘Cause you’re a focused, obsessive, rat-bastard.
He: So long as we’re clear on this. [Goes and does as expected.]
Me: Yup. Now… this thing you do…. that’s got to change. You need to be more… normal here.
Me: Yes. Yes, you do. It’s a Publishing Necessity.
He: I don’t give the smallest iota of shit for your “Publishing Necessity.” This aberration is not going to happen. You know as well as I. So why do you bother trying to force me? I’ll only continue to refuse.
Me: Listen to me, Character. I own you, I made you, I shape you as I see fit. And you do as I say.
He: Just how unutterrably self-deluded are you, Writer?
Me: Not as much as you!
He: Hah! Talking to yourself. Even I don’t do that. You need to reconsider your God complex.
Me: Fuck you! You need to change and that’s the bottom line!
Me: No, seriously.
He: [graveyard quiet]
Me: Awww… c’mon… They’re gonna crucify you if you don’t. This is for you really. Just… y’know… try it?
He: Not even if your life depended on it. Fond as I am of you. No.
I have met the enemy. I have birthed a character so totally self-possessed that he lives beyond my ability to bend or change him without destroying him utterly. I am no longer God. I am a writer with murder in my heart. (Or at least radical surgery.)
And I apologize to all those writers I’ve mocked or scoffed at for saying “the character does what he wants and I just write it down.”
I am so screwed.