Wednesday, October 18, 2006

When the story writes itself

Ever began writing something with a fixed plan in mind, e.g: By Chapter 7, protagonist should be getting to Place A, or by Chapter 16, the war begins etc, only to have your story carried away by the characters themselves?

I was reading Sharon's interview with Anita Desai. And even those Booker Prize winners/nominees don't know who the murderer is until the end of the book! Stephen King also espouses this method. "Which is more fun?" he says. "Going along for the ride with the characters, not knowing what will happen next? Or planning every step of the way?"

I have to agree with Stephen. It's a lot more fun going for the journey without knowing what happens next. This is exactly what I'm experiencing now while writing Billy Lang, my children's book. I'm up to Chapter 9 now, and I have 10 extra chapters in the bag of what will happen to Billy later once he gets past this hurdle. And I'm finding that Billy is writing himself. (Or the hurdle keeps on getting more complicated all on its own.)

For example:

1. I had initially planned for Billy to be kidnapped by the boy with red eyes in Chapter 4 and whisked off immediately into the Demon Realm, whereupon they will go on a demon train ride through terrains never seen before by man.


Billy is kidnapped, but seized from his captors instead by a magician with the souls of dead children for his familiars. He is now imprisoned in the House with No Windows and is planning an ingenious escape or he would be certain to face an awful death. Naturally, obstacles conspire that this escape won't be easy.

Things just happen to the guy (out of no volition of my own) and he keeps finding ways to stay one step ahead! It's like I'm thinking, "What would he do in this situation?" Or, "What would this villain do in this situation?" Or, "What would this secondary character do in this situation to complicate matters? They're not going to be innocent bystanders, are they?" And they all end up as real people trying to outwit one another.

Maybe it's like what John Irving says, "I just think of the characters, and they write themselves."

(Bangs head on the wall.)

Anyway, at least I'm having fun with a protagonist who came completely to life all on his own.


Gette said...

Yes, just yes.

I've been putting off rewriting a short novel of mine into a full-length novel. Now that I've finally started, I found that I had to get to know all my characters again before they'd come to the point of "writing themselves".

That's working out fine so far, but I get a feeling that my original story is going to get turned on its head by the time I finish!

I've not been this excited about the creative process in years.

Ted Mahsun said...

I think it's more fun that way. I've stopped planning my stories now, I let the characters take over. It's when the characters themselves don't want to do anything, plan or no plan, that's the problem now. Haha!

Anyway... Billy Lang keeps getting more and more interesting!

Xeus said...

Gette, go with it, girl!

Ted, your characters have ennui. You've got to have drastic things happen to them. That'll get them off the couch!

Anonymous said...

Hi Xeus, I cant seem to find your book in Kuching. Tried a few stores even asked the sales assistant who looked at me like I just asked her the square root of some large prime no. Any pointers? thanks J

Argus Lou said...

Hi, Xeus. When you begin to write a story, it helps to have a rough plot in mind, but be open to where the characters might lead you -- often in strange and unforeseen directions. If you characterise them well enough, they are obliged to act within character. So when you put them in difficult situations, they will find their own way, sometimes surprising even you, their creator.

Xeus said...

Dear J, I believe MPH Kuching stocks it. Gette is from Kuching, and she seems to have found it in the Malaysiana rack. I also believe other bookstores stock it. Just ask them to check their computer.

Argus, you are absolutely right. I always find when writing something, I begin to think of new and exciting things as well, better than the ones I'd thought of while plotting.