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Those Uncooperative Characters

During a writer's workshop at a slash convention in the 80s, one panelist was determined to lay one particular assumption to rest.

A writer might say, "I was writing a story where X was going to happen, but then the characters took over the story and Y happened instead!"

The panelist for the workshop hated hearing statements like that.  Her concern was that when new writers heard a veteran writer speak of "the characters taking over the story", it sounded like something magical.  And if a new writer had never had such a magical experience, then that must mean they weren't really writers.

The panelist pointed out that "the characters taking over the story" simply means that the writer knows her characters really well.  And if she starts writing with the intent for them to say or do X, and then it ends up feeling more "right" for the characters to do or say Y, once she's engrossed in the story.... well, there's nothing magical about that.  It just means the author knows her characters, and it ended up being more natural for those characters to do or say Y.

I agree with this.  I have had a few experiences of reading a story, and it really did seem like the writer was working extra hard at "making" the characters do or say certain things.  As though she was creating a story that didn't feel natural.

Mostly though, feeling comfortable with certain characters comes from experience.  The more you write them, the more their actions and speech seems to come naturally.  Since I have always pretty much stuck to writing in one fandom at a time, it was always quite an adjustment moving from fandom to fandom, and getting a feel for a new pair of characters.  It always took at least a few stories for me to feel wholly comfortable writing them.

Writers approach the process of creating stories all sorts of different ways.  The idea gives me the willies, but I've known a couple of writers to say that don't write a single word until they have everything that's going to happen in a story already figured out in their head.

I used to work from outlines for longer stories -- just sort of sketch what I intended to happen, and then leave how it happened to that actual writing.

I eventually reached the point in Sentinel fandom, and continue with today, where I often don't even have any idea of what I want the plot to be for a story.  I just start writing and find out what happens, along with the characters.  To me, everything feels more fresh and satisfying that way.

I will sometimes start a scene with the intent to have it
accomplish a certain thing; but when I start writing it, the scene will start unfolding in a way that I hadn't intended.  Sometimes, the scene ends up having a completely different point than what I'd set out to convey.  I try not to resist that kind of conversion.  I figure if a character suddenly up and says something that I wasn't expecting, there was a reason why that was in my subconscious at that particular point in time.  Usually, I just go with it.

But again, all of this comes from experience.  It wouldn't be fair for a newer author to expect herself to just "go with the flow" when she sits down to write a particular type of story.  The physical crafting of a story is usually not something that comes easily for those new at writing, with considerations for plot structure, sentence structure, pacing, etc.  I used to spend a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to write, rather than actually writing.  Writing was more like work, compared to just enjoying the fantasy in my head.     

But now, decades later, if I've thought enough about a certain scenario that it's come to life in my head, then I very quickly switch to actually starting a storyQuite often, the piece of writing will start to flourish into something workable, because the characters took over the story. 

Or put another way, I wrote what felt natural.