Friday, April 20, 2012

Books that Take Over

I am disgusted with myself.

I knew a Vestal Virgin in my book would be executed as soon as I started working on it. This death would be so traumatic for my main character that it would make her question her religion, her role as a priestess, and so forth until her dilemma gets resolved at the end of the book.

Trouble was, in my first draft killing that character was sad but not life-changingly traumatic. It didn’t drive the story forward enough. I went back and further developed her relationship with my main character, and I kept increasing her likability and deepening their love for each other in every draft.

By the time I reached my current draft, I thought, “What kind of sick, twisted person would kill this character off?” I felt purely evil.

I can’t stand it when other authors do this. I’ve read books so sad that I think the writers must be messed up to write stuff like that. Maybe they weren’t loved enough as a child so they have too little pity for the human race. Now I'm doing the same thing.

It's not my fault... the book made me do it...

This is a good example of a book “taking over.” Being a control freak myself, I scoff when people say they “do what the characters tell them to do.(I also laugh because it makes them sound like crazy people.)

But there’s some truth to it. I never would have sat in front of my computer and said, “I will now create a character everyone will adore and then give her a gruesome death to upset my readers as much as possible.” It doesn’t matter that I didn't intend to sadden my readers; I wanted Tuccia’s world turned upside down, and this is what I had to do to make it happen.

Often authors know their characters need to get from point A to point B and the book fills in the empty spaces on its own. I believe this is because we are creatures of logic, and our brains make logical conclusions before we’re consciously aware of it.

If you know enough about your characters and their arcs, at some point it’ll feel like they’re talking on their own. When someone says, “I had an ending in mind, but the book told me to write something different,” it doesn’t mean he needs to be put in a strait-jacket; it means the first ending didn’t make as much sense as the second.

I still prefer deliberately plotting my book on my own, without the magical process of the book possessing me.

Do you like to let your book take over, or do you like to keep control?


  1. And now we're into Pantser versus Plotter territory. :)

    I do both: Plan the book, but then the book takes over. It's usually smarter than I am. Ditto for my characters—they already know who they are, but I need to get out of the way to let them fulfill their intentions. However, as a not-so-closet Jungian, I look upon it this as a case where my subconscious knows best. When it's going well, it's like channeling a waking dream. It's pretty intense.

  2. I love it when my books take over - I love to see where my characters take me and take themselves. For me, it's a thrilling adventure and I feel like I can trust the book to do the characters justice. Though by nature I am not a very controlling person haha. Usually I sketch an outline of what I'd like to accomplish in my writing for each session so I at least have a good sense of the stuff I'm putting down on paper. But when I actually start, I tell my characters, "All right - take over the reins!"

    ~Wendy Lu

    The Red Angel Blog

  3. I wouldn't worry about killing off a person too likable. I suppose if you wanted to imply a strong relationship without getting too detailed about it, the vestal who is killed could be your main character's older sister. We all understand the sibling bond without your having to go into it at length. Just a thought.

  4. I plot things out first, and then I start writing and the book takes over. My brain always goes off in a new direction, and I let it go. I can always fix any problems in revision and my right brain gets some really good ideas when I let it go.

  5. I much prefer to have the book take over! So much fun to not have a clue what's going to happen next! I start with only a vague idea of the ending scene and a couple of characters - then off I go!

  6. I am a fan of both. On my first novel, I learned the hard way how much trouble awaits when I don't plot at all. A lot of massive structural rewrites and rewrites and rewrites. On the other hand, that plot outline is just a general map, a scaffold. Once I get rolling, if I try to force my characters to follow it when it isn't right, the book and the characters begin to lose their truth. I think of the first draft as the discovery draft, because I learn so much more about the characters and the story in that draft than I can ever learn through plotting and exploratory writing exercises.

  7. I once killed a character who I'd based on crushes from school - as a result he was my most favourite character ever... still dead though!

  8. So I plot all the major points. And then I start writing and the book takes over the gaps. It also occasionally throws me new people. And then there are those things I throw in whenever I get stuck because I know they're going to cause something to happen. For GHOST SISTER, that was Wren. My subconscious knew she would get things moving.

    I've tagged you with the Lucky 7 meme:

  9. This will sounds crazy to everyone but a writer. My characters hijack my plot. My final draft of my first book will be very different for the first draft. In my second book, a Saxon family who were going to be supporting characters told me to write about them. Besides, fiction is all about manipulating emotions. The readers want to feel joy and sadness with the characters.

  10. I like your thought process. Well Done!


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