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Ask an Author: When Your Characters Take You Somewhere You Didn’t Want to Go

Summertime is more of a season we associate with reading that with writing—but for our group of authors, we continue to write away, just as much—if not more!—than we read.  That’s why we have some great news to share: at New Zealand’s 37th annual national conference for science fiction and fantasy, author Lee Murray won her sixth Sir Julius Vogel Award, this time for Best Short Story for The Thief’s Tale, which appears in the charity anthology, The Refuge Collection.  A big congratulations to her, and to many more successes of the kind to her and to our other authors!

Now she might make it look easy, but even Lee has trouble with her writing at times.  This week’s question focuses on one of these problems.  Many (if not all!) authors find that they have written their characters into situations they aren’t sure they can get themselves out of.  We asked our authors: when was the last time one of your characters wrote himself into such a situation, and how did you deal with it?  Other than the characters you had to kill off as discussed in the “Murdering Ideas for the Sake of the Story” edition of Ask an Author!​

Lee Murray

My current work in progress appears to have stalled for that very reason. Not because I haven’t got an idea of where I want to take my character. In fact, the outcome of the story is already clear in my mind. The current challenge is how to get my character to this pre-determined conclusion in a way that both challenges him and also makes for an exciting and engaging read. At the moment, my poor hero is running around in circles on a bottle top while I decide what to do next! I have another work, also not-in-progress, where I’ve written my characters into a corner because the dilemma is so big, the problem so catastrophic, that I cannot think of a way mere humans can possibly make a difference. It’s as if I have sent a child to hold back a forest fire armed only with a watering can. Of course, in my case there’s hope: if I wait long enough perhaps scientists will come up with a way to solve the problem for me! (Check out Lee’s blog for more)

A.Carina Barry

In Love at the End of all Things, I had one of the main characters develop a seriously difficult-to-keep-up-with dietary issue.  The character in question worked 12 hour shifts, and his coworker wasn’t going to go for eating at the same establishments that his buddy planned on using.  How to get around it?  I ended up puzzling over that one for a couple of days, I think, and then I realized the solution simply sat in the hands of the second MC.  Problems aren’t all solved by the character you are following at the time.

Jean Gilbert

So far, (and I say that because I know it will happen one day) the situations caused by a misbehaving character has led to a better story than the original storyline. For example, one of my male characters fell in love with the main protagonist, which was not in the outline, but because it felt right, the conflict it caused made the story more interesting. Characters became more invested, danger grew from it, choices changed- some good, some bad – making the end on the story richer. Sometimes, we have to trust that our characters know what they are doing more than we the writer does, and let them draw our pen to whatever end their story takes them. After all, it is their story, not ours. :) (You can ask Jean more about this and any other topic on Twitter.)

Our full roster of authors, in alphabetical order: A. Carina Barry, D. Odell Benson, F.C. Etier, Jean Gilbert, J. C. Hart, Hunter Marshall, Catherine Mede, Lee Murray, Karo Oforofuo, A.J. Ponder, Meryl Stenhouse, Lorene Stunson Hill, Lynn Voedisch, and Sybil Watters.

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