“I wrote an outline for my story, but I’m stuck. I have Writer’s Block. The characters aren’t agreeing with me. What do I do?” Let’s discuss this.
There are times when the story and the characters simply won’t do what you’ve asked them to. They kick and scream and bite, and you sit back in your chair with arms folded glaring at the computer screen. It’s not supposed to be this way. It’s supposed to be easier than this. After all, you are their author! Why won’t they listen to you?
One very important thing about writing you must remember: when writing a story, you are writing their story—not yours. They’ve gone through it, experienced it, and they know what they’re talking about. You are simply a vehicle for their story to be told to the world. “But they don’t exist! How can they be in such control when they’re just figments of my imagination?” I don’t have the answer to that. I simply know that as writers, we are not in control of the story.
You may get a fantastic idea for a story and carefully outline it. You sit down and begin writing. It’s going well—no problems. Then suddenly you ask a character to do something, and the character crosses her arms, steps back, and glares. Now you’re at crossroads. On one hand, the outline requires the character to do or say a specific thing, but on the other hand the character absolutely refuses. Without the character cooperating, the scene won’t unfold as planned, and there will be a ripple effect throughout the rest of the story. When you talk with the character, she insists you, “That’s not me! I wouldn’t do something like that.”
You sighed and try to reason with her, “But that’s what you told me you were going to do when we wrote the outline!”
She doesn’t back down. “Well, you just didn’t know me well enough back then. Now you know me better, and you should know I wouldn’t do that. Don’t make me.”
“Then what am I supposed to do? If you don’t demand to know Blackadder’s real identity after seeing him fight like that, that changes everything! I mean, you’re not going to have a reason to meet with Remus once you get into the city, and I honestly don’t know when Blackadder will ever tell you who he really is, and you know how important that is for the story!”
The character smiles—a knowing smile that makes you feel small. “Just trust me—trust us. The story will work out just fine.”
Now you have a choice. You can throw caution to the wind and trust the character, or you can insist to stick to the outline and force the character to do something out of character. Here’s something to consider when you’re faced with this decision: have you ever tried to make someone do something they didn’t want to do? How smoothly did that end? He was probably glaring at you for the rest of the evening and wouldn’t forgive you for a week. That’s bad. That’s inconvenient, but it’s worse when it’s a character in your head. You can’t just walk out of the room and leave him to cool off. The character is with you every step of the way, talking behind your back, playing your conscience, and just being a pest. Not only that but he also picks fights with other characters in the cast. When one character is thoroughly unhappy, no one is happy
Say you force a character to act out of character and you finish the story. Then what? What you then face is the daunting task of revising that story to prep it for publication, and after such a struggle to write the story, how much are you really going to look forward to diving back into it and fighting some more? You will most likely shelf the book or stick it in a drawer hoping it will sort itself out while you get on to another project, but you know deep in the back of your mind that you will probably never touch that story again. If you do, you’ll start from scrap and redo it completely.
All that time, all those words wasted—simply because you wanted to have your own way and didn’t trust the characters.
So you see, when you’ve outlined a story, but the characters want to change something, it is always in your best interest to go along with them. This is when a detour from the outline is acceptable. They have a way of coming back to the outline and getting back on track. If they don’t bring the story back to the outline, in the end you will be grateful because the story turned out better than you could have imagined. Not only that, but you will be eager to go back and start the revision process which will then lead to publication.
You may plan your story to the smallest of details, but then the story may want to get off track. This can be discouraging especially if you spent a lot of time and energy working on that outline, but life is like that, isn’t it? You can plan out your goals and dreams, and plot out every detail along the way, but then life throws you a curveball, and you have to dodge or get hit. Take it in a stride. Remember, writing is—after all—a reflection of life.