I’m coming to the end of my current WIP and find myself feeling a little blue. It’s taken me months to get to know these characters. They might still have more to say and do, or could, if I had the time and imagination to continue to live vicariously through their trials and triumphs.
It’s always this way: the slow, stumbling starts and stops of getting to know someone and deciding whether I want to pursue a deeper relationship with these imaginary friends that inhabit my story. I shouldn’t say “my” because characters develop minds of their own and go places I never intended to take them. That can be a problem when you’re working on a deadline. Sometimes I feel like I’m driving a car without brakes and I’m heading straight for a cliff or a tree or into flood waters and I’m in a VW and not a Hummer.
Sometimes secondary characters will tunnel in like a gopher in freshly laid sod and mess up my plan. Thankfully, my publisher understands that the proposal I submitted doesn’t necessarily tell the story I eventually turn in.
I have lamented this fact. Oh, if only I could plot a novel and know exactly who my characters are and where they’re going. I have an idea, or think I do, but it never turns out that way. Hence, the story I started out to write is different from the one I’ve written.
Some things get easier over the years. Writing isn’t one of them. I’m still an apprentice. I’ve trashed entire manuscripts and started over because I didn’t like the people in my book. The characters took over and behaved badly. I can see one primary character in particular standing with hands on her hips, chin jerking up and telling me what I can do with the original plan I had for her life. Oh, yeah. You think you know me? Guess again! Once she went through the shredder, she had another, far more empathetic story to tell me.
I’m not crazy. At least, I don’t think so. I know other writers who experience the same loss of control. In truth, the most exciting thing about writing is having characters take over and live and talk to you, whisper in your ear, or shout in your face. They become real.
At least until you say goodbye and hope and pray their hearts beat strongly and they live and breathe on a printed page.