Tuesday, August 14, 2007


So I sit at my keyboard and pretend I'm an author. I sometimes have time to write, and even then I don't always get a lot of writing done. It is so much easier to visit blogs (see last post) than to be pounding out meaningful words.

However, in my thought life I have a whole story bandying about, working itself over and over through the details. I think Randy Ingermanson is the one who called this composting. In my mind I see my main character in her journeys, struggling to cope with all the conflict that I'm (hopefully) throwing at her to make life interesting for her. I really do have a lot, if not most of the book in my head ready to make the leap to paper, if only my brain wasn't so clumsy at getting my words right.

When you've spent a lot of time with someone, and you think you know them, you want to stick up for them. Well, what happens if someone doesn't see things the way you do?

I recently had a friend read a few chapters of my work in progress. She very thoughtfully gave some feedback, and it was greatly appreciated. I asked her about characterization, and she gave her opinion.

She had a different viewpoint of my protagonist than what was bouncing around in my head.

How did that happen? That's not supposed to happen, right? The author is in full control of the process, and the end result should be predictable.

The answer to the last statement is no, for two reasons.

I'm not going to go into #1, which is the characters need to speak for themselves. I'll just share, like many other writers will tell you, that sometimes the characters will rebel over what you as the author had planned, and demand their own way. Y'all can chuckle about my psychiatric health if you want, but it's true.

Number 2 would be that everyone is going to see things in their own way. I don't fully agree with Obi-Wan Kenobi's statement to Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi that things depend on "a certain point of view". That smacks of relativism. But when it comes to reading, all the author can do is prevent their vision of a story, a character, or whatever. That is only half of the story.

The other half is how the reader interprets things. I can't be in control of that. Not unless I want to write a very boring story that spells out every little nuance I want for the tale.

It makes you feel vulnerable as a writer, almost exposed when you put yourself out there like that. I had Jenna Dawson wrapped up in my comfortable little mental movie, but in real life she may play differently.

Some of this does come from my skill as a writer. I know that I can do a better job in bringing out what is in my head. Thus the blogging and reading so much: to grow as a writer in understanding and ability. Hopefully when I have the time to put fingers to keyboard I'll be farther along.

It's just interesting having something like this exposed.


  1. you said, "The author is in full control of the process, and the end result should be predictable."
    ha! try telling my marnie that.
    (number 1 reason).

  2. When they start acting up, I just take my characters and smack 'em around in a back room for a while. They'll come around.

  3. I'm one that says the author is in full control, but only in the sense that you configure the character to begin with. At some point the character needs to act the way you've made him and that might mean in a way you had not anticipated when you first conceived of his personality.

    So there are surprises, certainly.

    I agree, too, that writers need to trust readers and that may mean they "see things" somewhat differently than the writer sees them.

    But the trust needs to be there. Writing to make the reader see exactly what the writer sees can become tedious at best and insulting at worst.

    It's a trick to know what to include. I just read a book that had the character flick away a cigarette, then in the next paragraph take a drag on a new cigarette.

    I stopped to think about that, wondering if perhaps the author should have shown the character lighting up instead of taking a drag. The skipped step was a snag to me.

    Yet, the author sorta trusted the reader. We still needed the tip off that this was a new one, not the one he just flicked away. So, I'm thinking, why not just show it since you have to insinuate it anyway.

    I suppose we only figure those things out as we see how others are affected by what we write.