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!