He Did What? – characters running the show

Once I wrote a novel called, “Lilies in the Spring”. It is about a brother and sister, fifteen years apart in age. The parents die in a car crash and the brother must raise his thirteen year old sister. The story started with the brother’s childhood before the sister was born. He was an independent child who was given responsibilities at an early age. I had a scene where at ten, he made coffee before his mother woke up. One of the people who critiqued the story made the comment that a boy of that age would never be able to do such a task without supervision.
My first reaction was, this boy does! My son never made coffee for me at that age but I think he could have. There may be some of you who would say sure, there are ten year olds that are capable. The question isn’t how possible is it that such a child exists but what is most likely, most plausible in most reader’s minds?
That’s the thing. It does no good to be stubborn and possessive about a character or a scene. Yes, I am the author but if my goal is to write well, to craft well, the characters must be subject to that objective and I must be subject to the reader and their preferences.
Now, that doesn’t mean, I can’t have a ten year old making coffee as a chore. But if the feedback from more than one person (or even just one) is that it’s not realistic, I either have to do a stellar job in making it clear that this unusual child is real or I need to revise. The point of the scene was to show he was a serious, independent and highly responsible child who would grow up to be governed by that sense of responsibility, order and serious thinking which is all upended in raising a teenager.
If the coffee scene was a hard sell, there are many other ways to get the point across and that is the takeaway from this post. Don’t let characters and their special endearing, seemingly indispensable qualities, run the show. Characters must be in step with the whole purpose of their existence, to tell the story in the most engaging, thought provoking, intense, unforgettable way. Be open to pushing your characters down another path to get to the same place. That’s the joy of writing, the empty page can take a character any direction. It’s worth the trouble to find the right one. Write on!

Fiction Writer Weirdness

Writer of fiction, this one’s for you. Have you ever walked into a room and felt like you’ve been there before? Or looked at a random photograph and think it is familiar? But then realize in the next moment that no, you have not been there, but it resembles a scene you wrote about. Worse yet, have you considered how a character would cope with a situation or worried about a character?

Maybe it’s just me, but there are times when I’m so immersed in a story, in the people, that my brain accidentally believes on some level that they exist. I say accidentally because in a way I’ve tricked myself by thinking so deeply in character, that it mimics personal introspection.

To be honest, writing fiction makes me just a little bit weird.  What about you?

It may be unavoidable, it may be that a fiction writer’s mind expands from use, pushing the envelope of normal and reaching into the bands beyond like a pioneer in a new territory, blazing the way.

Truly to write good fiction is to call into existence, lives, places, events that have no substance, that are invisible, that are not chronicled in the book of life. If well done, it is caught by hearts that beat and lungs that breath and minds that say ‘yes I’ve been there’.

Get to it people! Write the good stuff!