Saturday, April 24, 2010

The scene with a mind of its own

When I have difficulty writing a scene, I have now learned to stop and ask why. Sometimes I have to beat my head against a wall a couple of times to remember to ask why, but I have gotten much better about that, I promise. Usually there is a problem with my story, not me (except for the bloody forehead), and something needs to change.

Often the problem is with my protagonist. She or he refuses to do what she or he needs to do for my plot to continue on merrily. Since I’m stubborn, I will spend more time than is good for me trying to force my character to do what I originally planned. It's my plan, after all. I wrote it. It's terrific. It is necessary for my story. But still my protagonist refuses.

So now I figure that I have three choices.

1) Write the scene anyway. It'll be stilted and terrible, but it will be done JUST LIKE I PLANNED. Isn't that what's most important?

2) Beat up my character. This is very difficult to do with a virtual person, though. But perhaps it's time for him or her to have a near miss with the villain and get a little scraped up, huh? Of course, I'm kidding. I'm not violent at all, and would never think of doing such a thing to anyone virtual or otherwise. But it doesn't matter. These violent acts and threats of violence always seem to fall on, er, deaf ears anyway…

3) Or write something completely different, something that my character wants to do. This requires a different kind of writing, a seat-of-the-pants kind that can be a little scary for someone like me who loves to outline and know where I’m going. If I'm not too bull-headed, something new and exciting usually comes out of choice number three. Something that makes my book better.

My favorite moments are when my characters feel like they’re driving the story (and I’m doing less of the work). In my second book, Dead in the Water (coming out in just a few weeks), I needed a car service driver to get Lydia McKenzie from point A to B. I decided he should be Hispanic, as many of the drivers in Williamsburg, Brooklyn seem to be. But when Lydia slid into his car service, he announced his name was Emmanuel and he was Jamaican. Whoa, I said. Jamaican? Yes, he said, Jamaican. He was so confident that I listened. And he turned out to be such a cool guy that I gave him a much bigger part in the story than I planned. I didn’t regret it, hurt anyone, or even hurt myself. Just the way I like it.


Rebecca Cantrell said...

I know what you mean, Meredith! I have one pesky character who showed up in early in book1 just to increase tension. He made himself more important in book2. I decided to kill him in book3. Then he got funny and fascinating and even though he was supposed to die in two different outlines, he made it through. Then I planned to kill him between books and off stage, but he's BACK in book4. Bugger.

But my film agent said, "When we sell the book, that guy will be the reason why!" so I guess it's just as well that he keeps weaseling out of his doom.

Gabi said...

I must have a darker side than you, Meredith. I'm going to use that nearly hit by a bus trick the next time my protagonist goes off the reservation.

Shane Gericke said...

Whatever is behind Door No. 3 is usually the best writing ever. Cool that you let your characters frolic there!

Meredith Cole said...

I'm so glad you're going to use it, Gabi! Perhaps I'm just not brave enough to really torture them.

I love that you've got a character that just won't die, Rebecca! That's too funny. Anyone who isn't a writer I'm sure would think we were all crazy!

Michael Wiley said...

I think more and more guys in our fiction will be Emmanuels from Jamaica. And bodybuilders in drag. And old ladies who are the toughest characters on their blocks. I'm all for it. This is the world we live in. Or should.

Great post, Meredith!