Val McDermid said that characters don’t tell stories, writers do. And, of course, this is true. The characters are a writer’s creation, after all. But, my impulse to bicker with this statement comes from a difference in writer brain. I’m going to divide writers neatly into two categories: those who write to plot/structure, and those whose work is character-driven. McDermid, a mystery writer of intricate, layered plots, is the first. I’m the second. Is there overlap? Of course. Mysteries don’t matter if you’re not interested in the character, and character-stories die without a good plot. I’m simplifying matters to get to my point.
My point: my characters surprise me. They’re mine, I invented them, they are a product of my imagination, but they surprise me. During the re-write, one of my characters relayed a memory that startled me. I just sat there, staring at the monitor, re-reading her confession. I typed it, and so it came from my brain, but still, I wasn’t conscious of it. I didn’t deliberately set out to relay this memory. I’ll be sweeping, or booking bank statements or walking the dogs when I hear a conversation between two of them. That’s how it feels, like eavesdropping, like they have lives beyond what I have created for them. And isn’t that art? Shouldn’t the creation exist beyond the scope of the creator? Even, perhaps, from its inception.
A couple of years ago, I had an idea I was excited about, and a character with a fascinating back story, and tension, and conflict, etc. I sat down to write her and she just wanted to sit in her living room reading magazines and smoking. It took weeks before I gave up on her. She wouldn’t budge.
For me, writing is less like being god, and more like being mom. I hope the best for you, I nurture and love you. But, in the end, your choices are as important as mine are.