Being an author is awesome. We get to be the gods of our little world where everything depends on us. If a character misbehaves, then oh yeah? Off with his head!
But this can also cause quite the headache at times. Seriously, it’s a good thing the real God is so powerful, because some of the decisions we have to make as authors are so tough that they can even make us want to give us at times. Can you imagine if God did that?
Thankfully He doesn’t.
And as for us poor little authors, we just stumble along and try to figure it all out, each in our own way, as demonstrated by the diversity of answers to this week’s question: Sometimes a character or plot idea doesn’t fit the story, but we love it so much we hate to lose it. How do you deal with murdering a particularly good idea you are really attached to?
My dilemma is a little bit flipped the other way around. You see, when I first started writing Spirit Within Club, which is the first of a series of seven, I knew that one of the characters would end up dying in the 5th or 6th book because of decisions they were already making at the age of 10 in the first book. But once I put the finishing touches on the manuscript for the second book–which is currently under review by a publisher–I realised that I just couldn’t do it. I don’t want to kill this character because I want them to overcome and live on to help others. So do I kill the character as originally intentioned, or do I kill the idea of killing the character?
Oh what a tangled web we weave…
Every two weeks I have my writing critiqued by a group of four talented writers, including, amongst others, Ask an Author’s AJ Ponder. We meet at the library café over coffee and eggs, and dissect each other’s writing for its strengths and weaknesses. Sounds civilised, right? Not on your life. These writers hack and carve at my work until it is a shiny as a scalpel. Like precision surgeons, they incise tumorous phrases and suction away the putrefaction. They’re not deliberately invasive — like doctors, their first mandate is to do no harm — but inevitably their treatment leaves my work looking pinker, healthier. In short, if my team think a character or plot idea doesn’t fit the story, then I tend to trust them.
I have characters who show up that don’t fit into my stories. I try to keep them in mind for later. Some haunt me, like the white-furred female biker werewolf who has never given me her name, and others await their time to get mentioned in later tales. Mostly, I try to keep them in the notes so I can pull them out when a good spot for them appears.
I love that you used the terms “murdering a particularly good idea”, because that is exactly how it feels. I don’t let any ideas I find to be particularly good go wasted, however. I may slice and dice them out of a current project. Then I sew them back together on a rainy day when I will most certainly resurrect them in a different tale! So it is really only a temporary, violently induced snooze, not murder- my conscience is clear.
One of the first stories I wrote, I specifically wrote in a character that I knew was going to die at the end, but as I continued writing him, the more I liked him, and I just didn’t want him to disappear from the story. I argued with myself, with my characters, but in the end, I let the story tell itself. How did I deal with it? He battled the dead guy, and they both vanished, but he did a Gandalf, and came back as a stronger wizard than he was. He still helped with the story and still turned up at the end to congratulate the happy couple – but so did the bad guy. That novel will never see the light of a publishers press, but I was extremely happy with the outcome in the end.
I haven’t written a book yet where I need to kill of a character. In Wake Up! Based on a true story of abuse and betrayal I felt like I wanted to kill off the Antagonist, but because the story is about reality, there was no way I could. Even my second book is based on reality and the main male character in that one I wouldn’t kill off at all; he may not like me anymore if I do that. 🙂
I write the first and last chapters of my books when I begin. My method of writing is to turn my characters loose. let them tell the story and drive the plot with dialog. Of course, you have to set boundaries. You don’t want to kill your main character. If you’re going to let characters drive the plot and action, you can’t afford to get too attached to them or plot devices. Consider Hitchcock’s Psycho. Marion Crane dies approximately forty-seven minutes into a movie that lasts one hour and 49 minutes. Audience members think she is the main character only to discover later she is not.
I’ve murdered a good many ideas. I’m a serial idea-murderer. But I wasn’t always this way. One of my first written stories was a very traditional queen/castle/high-fantasy piece that I loved. I could see every room, I knew every character. Or I thought I did. I wrote the story, and submitted it. I got a very detailed rejection from an editor pointing out everything that was wrong with it. So I sat down and revised the story completely, keeping the spirit of the original idea intact, and resubmitted it. And got rejected.
Fast forward ten years to my first paid short story sale. It wasn’t that story. I was still rewriting, reforging and resubmitting that original story. And it kept gathering rejections.
Years later, with many sales under my belt, I pulled out that story again, intending to rewrite it with all my hard-learned skills.
And I realised why it hadn’t sold. I was in love with the idea, but it was nothing like the stories I was selling, because it wasn’t ME. It was an homage to the fantasy I had read growing up. It was all nostalgia. It wasn’t a story that belonged in my body of work. So I put it away, finally, after nearly 15 years of lovingly working on it.
And it felt great.
What I learned from that exercise is that, no matter how attached you are to something, it’s better to let go if the idea doesn’t serve your vision. And there will always be other ideas to replace it.
Murdering good ideas is really difficult. So I wrote a poem…a while ago now.
It’s too long for here, but says everything – and may even answer the question of why you should – it’s at http://anafflictionofpoetry.blogspot.co.nz/2011/04/remember-remember-babes-in-wood.html
Our full roster of authors, in alphabetical order:
A.C. 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.