As an author, I am faced with any number of quandaries ― do I do this … do I do that? And seldom is there a consensus. Every writer is an expert, so why shouldn’t I be one. Back in my consulting days, we defined an expert as a person with a briefcase fifty miles from home. Perhaps that is too presumptuous a mantle for me to assume. Rather than clothing myself in such a shroud, I will limit myself to what works for me. And for what it’s worth, I think that should be the position all authors should take.
One expert I read said ‘Characters don’t talk to the author. After all, who’s in charge? You’re the author, tell them what to do.’ That caused me to step back and I re-examined my habits. I found that while his method seem to work for him ― but don’t necessarily help me.
Looking back over the novels and short stories I’ve written, several of my characters have had a serious discussion with me. During my writing career, I’ve created around 200 characters to populate my stories and that’s too many to track in my head. I use a Microsoft Word file to organize them. I do my best not to repeat names, but I’ve slipped a few times. That Word listing is invaluable because I have characters who fill recurring roles in more than one novel ― and sometimes I remember the character but have forgotten the name.
Back to those voices in my head. One who stands out in my mind, was a fellow nicknamed Hillbilly who filled a tertiary level position in the story. Up he popped, and told me he wanted a larger role. I obliged him, and he became a main secondary character … to the betterment of the tale.
In another instance, the love interest of the male protagonist asked him about photos on a table in his home. She commented that he moved them around at seemingly random times and while there was a picture of his son, there were none of his wife. Hmmm. As the author, I didn’t know the answer to her question either. I sat down with the protagonist, asked him the question and he filled me in on his back-story. I found the details interesting and wrote a novel about his story. Turns out, this second novel was actually a prequel to the one I’d finished. In chronological sequence, the first novel I wrote became the second in the life of the protagonist. I’ll release them in chronological order in the character’s life.
Maybe I should have placed this paragraph up front, because by now you may be wondering about my sanity. The voices I hear are my own. I’m not psychotic or schizophrenic ― at least I don’t think so.
Where does that leave me? Should I listen to my characters or should I stay in charge and make them go places they don’t want to go? The answer for me is to listen to them ― for other authors I say ― do what works for you to create the best story you are capable of writing.
Don’t do what I do, unless it fits. Try various approaches to your writing and look for comfort zones … for you. I’m happy to share my position, but it is not my plan to force my ideas on you. I vary my approach as situations dictate. Sometimes, even if I need them, my characters remain silent ― much to my consternation. Yes, there are times when I am required to do all the work myself.
The first of John Achor’s three careers spanned twenty years as a U.S. Air Force pilot. He accumulated over 4,000 hours flying planes from Piper Cubs to the military equivalent of the Boeing 707. After the military, he entered the real estate industry. He joined a national real estate franchise as a management consultant working at the regional and national levels. Those positions led him to Phoenix, Arizona, and an affiliation with a major Savings & Loan institution.
In John's words, “When the Savings and Loan industry melted away like a lump of sugar in hot coffee, I knew it was time to develop a third career.” He became a freelance computer instructor, user-developer, consultant, writer and Community College instructor.
In mid-1999, John moved to Hot Springs Village, Arkansas, where he lived in the piney woods with his wife Pat and their two cats, Lexus and Betsy Ross. As you may know from his latest book or web site; these two cats are no longer with them. Big hole in their lives, but both are waiting for us by The Rainbow Bridge. Their latest move was a recent relocation to the Omaha, Nebraska area where John is busy meeting and greeting new writers, readers and writing groups.
Website URL: www.johnachor.com
Blog URL: www.johnachor.wordpress.com
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