For the first night throughout the course of writing this novel, inspiration hit me like a train; I mean this in several ways.
- As for the most obvious meaning, it didn’t stop. I kept writing and writing, clicking away at my keyboard with eager fingertips that had missed that feeling for too long. I started in the early afternoon, left for a family event, returned from said family event, wrote for several hours, and skipped both my workout and dinner. There were times during previous novels attempts that I’d had this insatiable desire to keep writing, despite hunger or anything else, but this was the first time that I’d encountered this while writing my current novel.
- It derailed itself. I’ve read excerpts from authors’ writing that advises writers to maintain absolute control of their characters before they take control of the stories for themselves. I’d nearly laughed at the idea. How could a character that I create, no matter how close I become to them, take charge of what I write? No. Impossible. Well, I was proved wrong last night. My two leading characters (whom I feel like I know better than myself at times) ran away with the story. I was approximately a page shy of finishing my chapter by the time I realized that I’d written 5000 words without any forethought. I’d simply let the characters interact and react to what they’d just experienced. It was fluff! After the realization, I stared at the screen for a good five minutes before deciding what I should do, thinking through every word that I’d just written, wondering why I’d written it in the first place, and considering the value of the chapter as a whole.
- It was messy. I didn’t delete it, as I’d first planned to. While reflecting on the chapter, I realized that it was the most honest collection of words that I’d written throughout the last several months on any one of those word document pages. So what if I hadn’t painstakingly planned how the conversation between the two people would pan out? It had; moreover, it had in the most realistic way that I could imagine. They aren’t very open about their thoughts and feelings to strangers (which they practically are to each other), but after going through such a dangerous ordeal together just hours before, I realized that the words that I’d written for them were the words that they would say. In my mind, I’d allowed them the freedom to express themselves through me without any intervention, and it had been the silliest, most playful, most meaningless and meaningful conversation that the two had had. Sure, I had to revise and edit the chapter before I continued writing the last page or so, but it was worth interrupting my pretentious “writing process” that abhors interruption to let these two people truly be themselves with each other for the first time.
In those hours, the witty banter built a colorful bridge between them that I had lacked the materials to build for the last several months. My thoughts were scattered. As ashamed as I am to say it, I’m still not exactly sure how I did what I did, but I’m sure that it was because I knew what those two people, my characters, would say and do in the situation that I’d placed them in. I let it run its course, and through that, I gained a sense of clarity of both of them that I hadn’t had before.
I write because I want to create stories that people will want to be a part of – the same stories that I long to live in, if I could. For this to be true, I have to believe that my story has substance and that it won’t fall apart without me. I feel that I can step back from the story and just watch everything play out in my mind like I’m reliving memories from another person’s life. It’s all real, or at least to me. The characters that I create, therefore, are just as real for me as the stories that they live in. It’s their story that they experience – we all simply step in the book and live it along with them for a short time while reading. My characters… No, the people that the story revolves around… They’re real to me. Maybe they aren’t my friends like some authors feel about the characters they create, but they’re real people that I know better than the nose on my face. I feel their grief and anger and hatred and happiness and love and it sickens me to say that I feel alive by just knowing them. They’re closer to me than any friend because they’re the part of me that I live vicariously through on the typed page. I would never get along with a couple of them, but I love them dearly in the way that you love an estranged brother or sister with whom you share all of your most cherished memories.
Because I know the people in my story so well, I know something that I hadn’t realized before last night: even if I write it, it’s not the proper telling of it unless I allow them freedom to be themselves and feel comfortable in what they do and say. Yes, I’ll put them in the uncomfortable situations and physical conflict that they’ll get themselves into and make them act in ways that they normally wouldn’t, but the ultimate goal is to tell their story, not my own. I cannot merely reference their thoughts and feelings on the situation when I can’t think of anything else for myself. It’s their story and it always will be, even if it is my own, as well.
So what if I let my characters run away with an entire chapter? Believe it or not, it was just one scene which ended up being vital to unlocking a new layer of each person that even I had not been familiar with until I wrote it. Planning may be key, but passion is what breathes life into any tale, from romance to woe. Maybe I won’t let the reins as loose as I did last night, but it was nice for them to exercise and run around a bit before I reel them in in preparation for the next great conflict on the horizon.