Trust your characters

I’ve been doing this writing thing at a professional level for twenty-plus years; I’ve been teaching it to masters level at university; I even have a PhD in it (stop tittering at the back, there). And still… I’m learning as I go along.

What’s the most recent lesson I’ve learned? (Hint: the clue’s in the title of this post.)

I’m halfway through my current novel. I’m wrestling with lots of story threads and there are lots of things I know need to happen. I’m struggling to hold it all in my head and find a way through. Halfway through a novel is probably the most difficult time for me.

How do I cope with this?

Well I just worked it out a few days ago. What I do is step back and stop stressing. Trust my characters to sort it all out.

In his much cited book on writing, called, erm, On Writing, Stephen King explains that he doesn’t like to laboriously plot a story out in advance. Instead he talks about putting his characters in a predicament and then watching to see how they get out.

In my novel, each of my characters is in a predicament I’ve created. They want to survive. They want to achieve whatever goals and targets they have. There are other things they want too.

So what would they do?

They respond to their immediate challenges; they push towards their long-term goals; and others around them respond, push, adapt as a result. Story happens.

Put like that, it seems simple: just let them do it and write it as it happens before you.

Hang on … it is. It really is that simple. So why was I finding it so hard?

About Keith Brooke and infinity plus

Keith Brooke is a writer of science fiction, fantasy and other strange stuff, and editor and reviewer of same. He is also the publisher at infinity plus, an independent imprint publishing books by leading genre fiction authors. View all posts by Keith Brooke and infinity plus

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