After 6 weeks of struggling with it, I have an outline and 10k words of ms. I have to make a few tweaks to the outline before I’m ready to continue, but at least it’s done and I feel confident to go ahead and write a solid readable story with a plot that hangs together and characters who do what needs to be done to bring it all home to a satisfying conclusion (and hit all the long-arc points on the way.) And it should be a good, fun read, too with a few surprises.
I tried to do this one without an outline and “fly by the seat of the pants” on this one–I know a lot of writers who do this–but it just didn’t work for me. I felt lost and had no idea how to get where I wanted or what to put where. It didn’t feel good. I don’t find that uncertainty exciting and I’m not one of those people who feels that I’ve already told the story in the outline so writing it down is just work and therefore no fun. Writing is work. Not that I don’t find that work fun, but I don’t think of it as non-stop play or something I do just for my own satisfaction. I get satisfaction out of the success of the book as well as having written something I think is good, so the final product has to be a balance of my good time and what will keep readers entertained–it has to be actual good writing, not just me goofing off. Most of the time they’re the same, but when they aren’t, that’s where the work and decision making come in. That is where I play God.
The writer is God
Now, as my own petty little god of my own petty little paper word, I have the power to do as I please, but if I don’t follow a few rules and build my world with care, it’s not going to be much fun or much use. It will fall apart and that’s not satisfying. Gods aren’t carefree, but they are in charge–just read a few myths to see how much work gods have to do and how much fun they aren’t having sometimes. Written worlds aren’t post-Enlightenment paradises of self-determination for characters. They’re the Classical ideal of worlds run by implacable Fate. As the creator, I am also the Moriae–I am Clotho, and Lachesis, and Atropos and once I have spun, measured, and woven the plot, I cut the threads, too. Characters don’t escape me. If they try I am Nemesis and they will be brought to heel. The patients are not running the asylum in my world. Not today, at least.
When writers say “the characters just do what they want” or “this character ran off with the plot” I think that what they really mean is that their own subconscious has a better grasp of the character than they do in their conscious mind. They push the characters, consciously, to go with the plot, but their subconscious knows better what the character will do when pressure is applied and that’s when the character seems to go off on their own. The writer doesn’t have control of the character or they don’t have control of the plot. They haven’t written a pressure point that will send the character off in the right direction. They have presented a fork in the plot road without even knowing that the road forks and the character has happily gone down path A when the writer wanted them to go down path B because the conscious mind of the writer didn’t understand the character would choose path A. But the unconscious did and the character is now off with the subconscious writing the story behind the author’s conscious back. Now this will work out just fine if the writer is a good subconscious writer and can boil up the right plot and motivation in the back of their minds, but if they aren’t–as I’m not–it’s back to God mode–with maybe a little psychoanalysis thrown in.
Regaining conscious control of the plot and the character requires understanding the character and rebuilding the pressure points of the plot so the character has no reason to chose any road but the one the writer desires to send them down. Or the writer will have to change the character so that they will choose what the writer requires. Gods are allowed to do that.
And so, having given up writing by subconscious, I have grabbed the plot by the throat and shaken it and Harper and Quinton and Will and a dozen other characters into their proper places. I now have a plot and I know where I’m going and how I’ll get there. Now I get to the fun part–at least for a compulsive outliner–writing the actual story. This is where my understanding of the characters becomes fun and they begin to tell me the story–the full tapestry of the plot, detail, setting, and character, with the grit and shine of the tale in full life. It’s still my plot in my control–I’ve built a path they cannot help but take–but now they will narrate their journey in their own words and from their own view. Is this still work? Yeah, but fun work. And I’d better get back to it.