Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Left? Right? Or Straight Ahead?

In really great stories, we read about select moments, but end up feeling like we’ve been on a journey that includes part of a life or lives. We know characters inside and out, right? Authors take us on these rides. To do this, they make choices, hopefully selecting the best route to the moments and events that illuminate the characters’ personalities, backgrounds, and predicaments. Given the same characters, situations, and general background information, different writers would probably write different stories. I think this is fascinating. Whether a writer turns left at an intersection, swerves right, or goes straight ahead is influenced by that writer’s values, beliefs, and view of the world. The writer is the reader’s driver.

If you are a writer, how much thought do you give to the choices that pop up during the journey of your story? At least during the first draft, I don’t ponder endlessly about my options. I have an idea where I am going, using my outline as a road map. I consider how each turn will change my protagonist’s situation, how it will generate conflict and move the plot forward. Beyond that, I sort of go with my gut, which leads to plenty of dead ends (too many, really). By the end of my stories, though, I know they reflect my passions, views, and values, whether I like this or not.

When reading, do you ever wish an author had turned left instead of right? I will admit that I have, on occasion, wished an author had jigged instead of jagged. Or, I have prepped myself for a hard left turn, only to be swung right. That can be fun, actually.


* Shameless Self-Promotion Alert: I just had to share this wonderful review of Buck Fever by author Kenneth G. Bennett:

(I just love a nice review.) : )


  1. Yeah! It IS fun to get swung hard the other direction--exciting tho a bit perplexing at first. The characters have devious minds of their own. LOL

  2. I like this analogy. It makes me think of actual driving. You know when you get behind someone who is an indecisive driver? They're the most dangerous people on the road because you don't know what they're going to do next.
    This is the same of indecisive writers. They may not be dangerous, but they waste a lot of their reader's time going around in circles.

  3. Oh yes, I just finished reading a book where I wished the author had made her characters take sensible decisions to avoid their crises, but then that might have turned the story into a different book.

    For me, it's important to know my characters, so when the time comes, I know what kind of decisions they'll make and if they do something unexpected, I'll have a good idea why.

    Gonna check out that review.

  4. It's hard not to think how I might have handled something when I'm reading. I prefer to get swept up into the book but it doesn't always happen. When I write I try to let the characters (my subconscious I guess) make the choices.

  5. Absolutely, Carol!

    I love how you took the comparison to indecisive drivers and writers, E.R. Brilliant!

    That's a great point about knowing the characters, J.L. Very important.

    I, too, assume the characters are the subconscious, Lisa. Thanks for adding that.

  6. Hello there!! I love books that constantly surprise me in plausible ways! I think writers play like God with their stories - that's part of the fun too! Take care

  7. My characters swing me all over the place. There are times I think I'll know what's going to happen, and they're like, 'Nope, sorry, we're doing this instead!' I've had my share of dead ends, too, but that can be good because it shows me what DOESN'T work.

  8. "When reading, do you ever wish an author had turned left instead of right?"

    All the time. I think that's one reason I became a writer myself.

  9. It's so easy to wonder if it would have been better to turn left in chapter 3 instead of right. At least when you plot, you can go back to fix it. Doesn't make it any less pain though.

  10. It definitely helps to know the end destination first. I do a lot of faffing in the outlining stage and I try to take my characters down all sorts of turns just to see what will happen ;)

  11. I let the characters lead. If I get stuck, I know it's because I either just made a big wrong turn or I'm about to.

    Marcia (Hoehne), who cannot figure out why her Google account doesn't let her in to some blogs...

  12. Yes, I often wish a writer had turned here rather turned there, although sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised by the end result. Writing is all about decision making! I agree, it's fascinating. (Now I'm off to read the review.)

  13. That is a great review! And how cool that both father and son enjoyed it. This must have made your day.

  14. I am frequently disappointed at some of the turns writers take. Sometimes I stop reading because of it.

    I go with my gut too when I'm writing, but my characters really end up taking over... they are doing most of the driving I'm afraid. That's probably because I don't use outlines, and I only have a vague idea where I'm going when I start writing.

  15. I'm editing. Just this week I had made changes to the opening paragraphs of a chapter hard copy in the morning. After lunch, when I sat down to input them to the manuscript. Something totally different came out on the screen. Something really better. I loved it!

  16. Gosh, I love your blog!!

    My characters tell me what's happening. I work without an outline, just the story I have in my head. Let me tell you, they shock me sometimes. I mean...there are turns they take I never wanted to take! They go there though...and after a lot of emotional turmoil and such...they find a better road...but's pretty hectic.

  17. Hello, Old Kitty! I think you're right about writers playing God--and about it being fun. : )

    That's great Laura. I know exactly what you mean.

    That's funny, Jenn.

    Very true, Stina. It's so hard sometimes to make those changes after a wrong turn. One change always seems to lead to more changes.

    It sounds like you try out different scenarios, take different turns before you commit, Lynda. That's interesting.

    Sorry to read that you're still having trouble, Marcia. Good luck.

    Oh, MG, that review really made my day. And my week. So sweet that they both read Buck Fever.

    Writing without an outline is a lot different, isn't it, Doralynn? I can see how the characters would take over more.

    It's times like that, when the story just happens, that I most enjoy writing, Carol. Unexpected epiphanies that practically drop onto the keyboard are amazing.

    Thanks, Ashley! Characters taking unwanted turns--fun and hectic, right? : )

  18. I like to think I"m in the driver's seat when I'm writing my story, but oftentimes, I find my characters to be very persuasive backseat drivers :)

  19. That's one of the things I love about being a writer - the endless possibilities! It's fun being in the driver's seat. :)

  20. I try to steer my characters one way, but sometimes they resist and pull towards a different direction.

    When I'm reading a great book and there's a turn I don't like, I really wish the author hadn't gone there.

  21. Characters as backseat drivers is great, Nutschell! I love that. Thanks.

    I agree, Susan--this is one of my favorite parts of writing, as well.

    So true, Medeia. Most characters have minds of their own, for better or for worse. : )

  22. Most of the time, I love when an author jigs left when I thought they were going right! Unless, of course, right would have been much more interesting than left was.

  23. Oh yes, there have been many times I did not agree with an author's choices. But that's what makes it their story. I would rather be surprised by their choices than think it was too cliche.

    The difficult part is writing about characters who do things that you would never in your lifetime ever do (like I did in my own book.) It can be tricky making their down life's experiences.

  24. That's a good point, Peggy. Surprises are great as long as they don't muck things up.

    And you make a great point, too, Nancy, when you write that the author's choices make it his (or her) story. I hadn't thought about this in that way, but it makes sense.

  25. I think this is a fascinating topic! There have been times I've wished the writer would have gone a different direction, but at the same time, it's interesting to see how the writer's mind works.

    And yes, I have had to change plot points that I thought added depth, but really only added confusion. Though I do have my general direction planned from the get-go.

  26. In my writing, I like to think of what naturally would come next, then do something completely different! Very interesting post.

    It's nice to "meet" you. I'm going around to my followers' blogs to get to know them a bit. You have a great blog!

  27. I tend to be in the driver's seat. I write outlines, maps and do interviews of my characters for my stories. More often than not, I find my characters telling me to pull over, that they want to drive. :)

  28. Thanks, Janet! It sounds like you and I work in the same way.

    Welcome, Rebecca! Thank you for following and commenting! I love how you think of what would come naturally and then do something different. That's great!

    Great comment, Maeve! Hilarious that your characters fuss at you to pull over! : )