The first answer

Methodology:  Choose a question from the screened comments on this post.

I received 35 responses to this post, containing 65 questions.  One response  contained a record 22 questions.

More than half of the questions received are massive spoilers for the Liaden Universe®.  This is fair — the name of the game, after all, is Ask Me Anything, not, I’ll Answer Anything.

So!  Today’s question is!

Do your characters sometimes head in a different direction than you were planning in your stories? And if so what do you do, do you try to force them into the original direction, cut that scene out and change characters, see where they want to go, or something else? How do you deal with a stubborn character?

Our-and-my characters always have their own ideas about where they’re going, why they’re going there, and what they will and won’t do when they get there.

We consider this a feature.

Characters who have their own ideas about themselves and their lives, and strong feelings about what is proper — or needed — are what we want.  This may occasionally spoil or even void a scene, which is certainly inconvenient, but scenes can be rewritten, after all.  Stories are about characters.  To tell our stories properly,  we need to listen to the characters.

Being character-driven writers means that we are what’s sometimes called “organic writers” — which means we don’t produce an outline at the beginning of a story and stick with it, come ice or nor’easter.  We do start with a general idea of where we, mere authors, think the story’s going, but even that’s subject to change.  As a rule, the things that must happen, happen because they are necessary to the character(s).  I would say “to the character(s) arc,” but that would imply that we have some kind of control over that.

I have gone into a book knowing that one particular character, created for that book, would not survive their arc.  In fact, they would redeem themselves in death.  Except. . .in the course of the book, they redeemed themselves many times over, and bought back their life, in essence.  Which meant I needed to write a different ending, but, hey — that’s what writers are for.

Dealing with a stubborn character — Steve and I learned our lesson there on the very first Liaden book — Agent of Change — where we were working with — a very simple outline.  But one of the set pieces was that Val Con would arrive at a certain place in need of transportation, and that he would therefore steal a spaceship.  In fact, as it clearly stated in the outline, he was to steal a ship belonging to a friend, that was berthed at the station.

I was lead on Agent, by reason of having no day-job at the time, and I was zipping right along, barely able to type fast enough to keep up with Miri and Val Con, and there!  We got to the space station, there was the ship, and Val Con — stopped.

Stopped dead, right there on the page.

I figured I needed a break, got up, took a walk, came back, wiggled my fingers over the keys and said to Val Con, “OK, then!  Time to steal a spaceship!”

Nothing happened.

I showed him the outline, where it said, clearly, Val Con steals ship.

He shrugged.

Nothing happened.  I pushed.  I put in a line, typed *** to indicate a scene change, and tried to jump ahead, to where he was already on the ship.

Nope, nada, nothing.

I went back to the original scene, and tried to give him a little shove down toward the dock, and was informed that yes, I was the one with the typewriter, and I could, in theory, make him steal the ship, but if I did, he would never work for me again.

Well, that was unnerving, so I got up and went into the kitchen to make bread.

Eventually, Steve came home from his day-job, took a look at my face, and said,  “What’s wrong?”

“Val Con won’t steal the spaceship.”

“Oh, won’t he?”  said Steve.  “I’ll talk to him, OK?”

“OK,” I said, and started to pull stuff to make dinner.

He disappeared into the living room (my desk was in a corner of the living room in those days), and I heard the typewriter start, then stop.  A couple lines were typed; paper was ripped out of the platen.  New paper was rolled in, a couple keystrokes, then. . .nothing.

At dinner, Steve said, “Val Con won’t steal the spaceship.”

“Right,” I said, and we put our heads together and talked the scene over and how we’d gotten to the scene, and, eventually, realized our error.  Val Con and the owner of the ship he was to steal were friends.  Val Con did have his honor, and while he might do many things, steal from a friend, he would not.

So, we, as writers, had a couple choices before us.  We could change the ship-to-be-stolen, so that it no longer belonged to a friend.  This was actually the easiest solution, but we thought about it some more, and decided that there was a better solution, and we went back a few pages in the manuscript and wrote in a sentence where the friend gave Val Con permission to use any resource belonging to the friend that he might need.

After that adjustment was made, we went back to the space station — and Val Con was already moving toward that ship, a spring in his step, and reviewing the best places to Jump for.

So, yanno — that’s how you deal with a stubborn character.

Here ends the answer to the First Question.

8 thoughts on “The first answer”

  1. Characters having their own ethics, values and dreams is always something that has interested me. I remember hearing the story of an author whose child came upon him at work typing at great speed. When asked why he was typing so quickly he replied, ” I can’t wait to see what they are going to do and how it all turns out!”. I have wondered how this worked when you were growing Theo and had so many interested and involved aunts and uncles.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.