People sometimes ask me whether my characters ever "take over the plot." By that, they mean characters refusing to do what I'd planned for them, so that I end up having to write some other book--or even none at all.
I usually answer humorously (I hope) that this is the handy thing about writing mysteries, that characters who don't do what I wish simply end up meeting their deadly fates much sooner than they expected. But the truth is, it's not as easy as that, so let me try explaining with an analogy, like... riding a horse.
(Yes, I would use a hammering-a-nail analogy, if it worked. But it doesn't. How I wish it were as simple as nail-hammering!)
Anyway: Writing a novel is a little like holding the horse's reins. One rein is plot, the other character. And while I try to have a good grasp on the plot before I begin writing, and on the characters before I write them, inevitably characters have their own ideas, too.
I wasn't surprised, for instance, when two characters in Crawlspace decided that despite their deep differences, muddling along together was far better than being apart. And when one of the series regulars realized that the way to find her courage was to do something really scary... no big surprise there, either. She may be a chicken at heart, but she's not stupid.
The trick is telling the difference between deep conviction--an awareness of love, the determination to conquer fear, the urge to kill--and a random whim. Because one drives plot but the other sends the book galloping off in the wrong direction...
That's why writing a novel takes a light, confident hand on both reins: the one for plot, and the one for the people who are living it. They are my creations, but they mustn't ever know it. In their world, they are independent entities, never made to feel a clumsy tug on the story-bridle or flick of the plot-whip.
They do as I desire, but as with the horse and his lightly-held "steering equipment," if they notice me at all, it's only as a companion along for the ride. Far from being directed, they're as free as wild horses, completely at liberty to do whatever they like and go anywhere they please...
Or so they think. And--psst!--I won't tell them anything different if you won't. --Sarah Graves
(Photo © Pam Edwards)
From Publishers Weekly
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