If you read my post about the Thanksgiving 2015 Descent Into Madness, you know how I tend to lose control over my supporting characters. Sometimes, they push outside of their boundaries and take control of the story in ways I never intended them to--and usually, this ends up being a good thing for everyone (even if it does screw with my outline).
But there's another, more subtle, way that secondary characters can take on a life of their own, and so I want to talk for a minute about Sahnsor Di'ent.
Di'ent was a walk-on bit character in White Stone. His only reason for existing was to give his two or three lines of dialogue, and he fulfilled that purpose nicely. He said his lines, the story continued, and no one missed anything from his exclusion.
But there was something about those three lines of dialogue. There was so much *relationship destroyed* and *promises broken* and *trust betrayed* in his three sentences that I couldn't get Di'ent out of my head. He sat there, a character who was meant to do one single thing, with a full load of regret and guilt and desire to make things right, and I found him popping up in unexpected places as I attempted my first failed tries at what would become Wide Horizons (that is a story unto itself--the way rewriting White Stone for NaNoWriMo 2013 changed everything, but I digress). And every time he popped up, it all came back--the destroyed relationship, the broken promises, the betrayed trust. His guilt and regret and desire to make things right. All these scenes were scrapped when the end of White Stone took a different turn in draft 3 than it had in prior versions, but by then, Di'ent was there, an established minor character with his own feelings and agenda, and I really liked what he could do inside the white stone palace.
And so, when Wild Tides rolled around, I really felt I couldn't ignore him. He needed a role to play, something significant to do, and that's what he got: [REDACTED TO REMOVE SPOILERS]*. His character arc, born of a bit part and three lines of dialogue in Book 1, can now be complete.
*Wild Tides, White Stone Book 3, will be available in Dec. 2017.
Note: As always, I'm going to try to avoid any spoilers for the White Stone series, but something may slip out in the telling. You've been warned. :)
Last week, I wrote a post about losing control of your characters, and how the unexpected turn of the romantic subplot in Wide Horizons was the best thing that could've happened to the story. Today, I want to take that same idea of losing control of your characters and learn the exact opposite lesson.
(Yes, this may cause some advice whiplash. But let's be honest: writing is pain. Anyone who says differently is selling something.)
Pazur is one of the minor characters in White Stone, and originally, I had the thought he was setting up to be a potential love interest, maybe to add a third side of a love triangle to the series (this was in early 2012, somewhat before my more recent vitriolic hatred of love triangles). When presented with the idea, both he and Kalima were okay with it. But then Pazur got cocky. This was how the conversation with him went (as recalled on that day's Facebook post):
I lost that argument with Pazur, not at all unlike I had lost arguments with plenty of characters before and since. But in this case, letting Pazur do as he wished was not the right choice for the characters or the story. It led to a very out-of-place assault scene that ultimately had no bearing on any of the characters' arcs or personalities, had no tie to plot or theme, and was merely a touch of drama for the sake of a touch of drama.
(For the record, I was right. Kalima did not take kindly to Pazur's advances, and he came out of it worse than her. There was choking involved.)
And so, in revision, that was the first scene to go.
In my writing experience, a character doing something unexpected or unplanned has usually been a good thing. They prove themselves to be more real and rounded than I might've first realized, and they usually have the right solution to a problem I didn't even know the story was facing. But sometimes, a character taking charge is not a good thing. And what are you supposed to do when a character does something that derails things in all the wrong ways?
You take them by the throat and explain to them that they'd better do as they're told.
If they don't, you cut them from the story.
Cutting him completely wasn't the answer for Pazur (after all, he does still show up in the story), but in the next draft of White Stone, his scenes were greatly reduced, his relationship with Kalima slashed at the knees. I knew by then that he wasn't going to behave himself if given the liberty of making his own decisions, so I stripped him of the status of potential love interest.
Sorry, Pazur. Everyone has to obey the Dread Pirate Roberts.
Looking back on that decision, I realize that demoting Pazur from potential love interest to minor side character is what opened up the possibility of the romantic subplot that actually occurs in Wide Horizons, and you know, if you read last week's post, that was the best kind of character takeover.
So, ultimately, I guess I have to credit Pazur's off-the-rails, and ultimately cut, attempt at controlling the story for a moment where another character did take control of the story in a way that mattered to the story and character arcs.
But it did take a long time to rein him back in.
NOTE: I'm going to attempt to write this post without spoilers for Wide Horizons or anything else, but no promises that I won't slip. I get kind of excited when I talk about writing. :)
November 26, 2015. Somewhere around 4 am. It's the wee hours of Thanksgiving morning, and I've been up all night getting in as many NaNoWriMo words as I can before the Thanksgiving family stuff starts later that morning. I just finished a crucial scene in Wide Horizons (2015's NaNo novel) and am attempting to rest on my laurels for a moment.
And then, things go off the rails.
It wasn't the first time I've lost control of my own fictional characters (Will from Walls did have that moment where he rode, unplanned, into the story and announced he was going to be one of the main characters, and Sam turned Nixie from what was going to be a straight-up retelling of Grimm's "The Nixie of the Mill-Pond" into a story about growing up and childhood friendships), but it was to date the most dramatic, and it sent me reeling.
I didn't set out to make Wide Horizons the story it ended up being, and the characters involved in the story's romantic subplot surprised me. But after I finished throwing my Thanksgiving day hissy fit about "Sibling" usurping the role of romantic interest, getting a good night's sleep, and thinking through the implications of this new direction, I realized that it was going to be all right.
Bill Nye said it was going to be OK, so it must be true!
More than all right, in fact: I had tripped on the perfect way to tie the story's romantic subplot into the series' overarching themes about faith and free will. This was an unexpected revelation for the entire White Stone series, and it has led me to a conclusion I probably should've had years ago.
Losing control of your characters isn't a bad thing. It can be alarming (see above Facebook post), but it can often lead to something you'd never thought about before. After you stop panicking about what the change is going to mean for everything for the rest of forever, you often find the direction the characters are trying to go really is the right one.
(Not always. Pazur from White Stone once thought it'd be a good idea to make a sexual pass at Kalima. That was not the right direction to go, now was it, Pazur?)
(I'm still a little salty about losing the argument I had with him about that scene, and I still like to remind him that I told him so every once in a while.)
So go ahead. Lose control of your characters. It might be the best thing that could happen to your story!
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