Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Illusion of Control

"Writing gives you the illusion of control, and then you realize it's just an illusion, that people are going to bring their own stuff into it."
David Sedaris, interview in Louisville Courier-Journal, June 5, 2005

This was quoted to me by one of my Facebook friends when I said a new and unplanned character had just introduced himself in my WIP, and I knew immediately how he was going to fit into the story.

25 people left comments, and I thought it was worth sharing some of them with you:

I'm a pantser too. I have the most inconvenient plotlines/characters come in and mess things up. (Sheila)

That, for me as a writer, is why I write - those moments when the character/s take over. If I'm surprised, then I know my readers will be, too. Glad others have this joy/magic in their creative day. (Astrid)

I'm a pantser also. I love it when I find out how my book ends. (Maggie)

The best part of being a writer is the surprises. (Bernadette)

Strong characters do this and it's best to get out of the way and allow them to, isn't it? (Linda)

Oh, yes, I keep the door open for everyone who comes along. But, by the same token, I also cull them or fuse them if they don’t quite earn their keep. (Mira)

Love it when that happens! The guy who turned out to be the nemesis of my main character just showed up one day, leaning on my MC's car! I had no idea where he'd come from, or who he was, now I know the book/s wouldn't have existed without him! However, I've described myself as a "happy pantser with a twist of obsessive plotter," because I tend to lean either way depending on my mood. (Terri)

Love it when that happens. My hero and heroine are running away with my book - mind you I don't usually plot at all - just have a vague idea in my head. (Fenella)

I love it when a great character decides to appear. Helps the story no end. (Barbara)

I love those characters who amble in unannounced! (Glynis)

I love minor characters who decide to become far more important than you planned. (June)

Oh yes! Love those unexpected arrivals or links. Happened to me the other day when I was doubting a whole section of the prequel, until I realised that Character A could so easily have been Character B's tutor in University and so would come into the story again later .... sorted! (Ailsa)

I'm a plotter, but unexpected characters walk in all the time, and I welcome them and integrate them. Plotting doesn't destroy spontaneity for me - it gives me a roadmap as I juggle multiple projects. Doesn't mean I can't go on tangents if the mood strikes.(Devon)

Have you had a 'new' character appear unexpectedly in your story?


  1. Yes, I had two villains appear, which took the story in a whole new direction. Hopefully, a stronger one! :)

  2. I haven't had a character appear, but sometimes my hero and/or heroine does something that I never expected him/her to do.

    I agree...that's the fun part of writing...when your characters take over and tell their own story using you as the vessel.

    Great fun!

  3. My hero suddenly revealed that he has two sisters and two brothers. That was in Chapter 6... Only one brother walked into this story but the others are waiting their turn in another story. They took me by surprise but they're all great characters.

  4. Two villains sound great, Jen. Good way to ramp up the story.

  5. Debra, my characters are forever telling me things I didn't know about them! My latest heroine suddenly revealed she'd been brought up at a small farm - and my reaction was, 'That figures' - even though it hadn't occurred to me before her voice said it!

  6. Beth, that sounds great - and good fodder for future stories too ;-) A reviewer of one of my books suggested she'd like to know more about the heroine's brother and also her best friend. I'm still wondering if I can get them together somehow!

  7. I haven't had a character waltz in, but my characters have taken control and revealed things I didn't think of. The biggest (for me) event was at the end of my first romance. The heroine was back home, broken and alone. Her real father revealed himself, and explained why he'd let her think another man was her father. The heroine was able to heal gaps in her inner life.
    I realized this was the emotional arc of the story, and knew I would have to rewrite the story to include this.
    I hope to do this soon. I'm still in love with this story's hero.

  8. That's great when a character reveals something so important, Ana.

  9. One of my books was the result of a dream (this has happened before), and I knew who the heroine would be, and what her job was, and the peril she was going to be in. But when I started to write it, I only got to the second chapter then felt blocked, so I put it away. A few weeks later I had a dream that a tall, very pale man with white hair and a Russian accent "told" me that I was having trouble because I was trying to give her the wrong hero. It had to be him. Then he smiled and revealed vampire fangs. I told him I don't write paranormals. He told me to research the Mayans, since I was trying to figure out how to get that angle of the story into it.

    I found out that all of their religious rituals and public appearances of their rulers involved blood-letting...curious, but if their gods were alien vampires, quite understandable.
    I pulled the story up, threw out the second chapter, and the rest of the book, as well as its sequel, wrote themselves.

    So yes, sometimes I feel like a conduit more than a creator. :-D

  10. I wish I had dreams that gave me new ideas for a story, Fiona! My dreams are confused (and often completely crazy) so I've never had any ideas from them!