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Exploring an Unexpected Path

July 24, 2014

?????????????There are few things more exciting – or unsettling – to a writer than admitting you’re not in control of your story. Most of us like to think we’re in control of our lives, but, deep down, we know that’s only partly true. In reality, our lives are subject to a million and one curves the universe can throw at us. As writers, though, we’re dealing with a universe of our own creation, so we should be in control. Right? You’d think so. But, as in other aspects of our lives, it’s not always the case. Sometimes a character or even the story itself throws us a curve.

I wrote LOVE AND NOT DESTROY as a stand-alone – or so I thought. It’s the story of Peace Morrow, a young woman who was abandoned as an infant and adopted by a strong, loving woman who gave her a nearly perfect childhood, but still, Peace can’t help wondering about her biological parents.

Thinking back over it, I remember that my original intent was that she would never discover who her biological parents were. The idea was that she would come to realize that it doesn’t matter whose blood flowed in her veins. She is what she makes herself.  Somewhere along the line, I realized that it was unfair to the reader and to my protagonist to leave that part of the puzzle unresolved and, truth be told, I wanted to know myself. So, by the end of the book, Peace has learned that her father is dead and her mother is someone she doesn’t really even like. That’s a complete turnaround from my original intention. The story took over and told me what needed to happen. I thought I’d tied up enough loose ends that the story was finished.

But Peace’s situation haunted me. I had to know what happened next and, unless I wrote the story, I’d never know. So, there you have it – I’m writing another Peace Morrow book. I planned to write about Peace’s relationship with her adoptive and biological mothers, and, almost as important, the relationship between the two mothers. It seemed like an interesting premise for a book. I had what I thought was the perfect title: ALL THAT I AM. I felt confident that I could make an interesting book out of this situation. I wrote a couple of chapters, introducing new characters as necessary to flesh out the story and, since I write mysteries, I inserted a mystery element into the book  … and, wham, the story took over. I realized the new characters’ lives were impacted in ways that could not be ignored. Peace and her two mothers are still there, but the focus has changed.

That’s where I am now. I’m being led down an unexpected path by characters who I thought I’d created, but who have assumed lives of their own. That’s what characters do; they demand that their story be told and even reveal to those of us who consider ourselves their creators what that story is. All we have to do is find the right words to do justice to the lives of these people.

Writing is an unpredictable endeavor – sometimes unsettling, always exciting.


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14 Comments leave one →
  1. July 24, 2014 8:52 AM

    I think that is what happens with the best of books, and I treasure the moments when it happens for me. The late Elmer Kelton used to tell great stories about characters who took over his novels.

    • July 24, 2014 9:22 AM

      Thanks for stopping by, Judy. I agree, those moments when the characters reach out and tell us who they really are treasures.

  2. Susanna permalink
    July 24, 2014 9:59 AM

    I’ve had that happen before in my writing. I’ve even found myself changing tacks as I’m typing a scene because one of the characters starts saying or doing something I hadn’t plan. Best of luck finishing the sequel.

    • July 24, 2014 10:50 AM

      Thanks, Susanna. I know what you’re saying. It’s almost as if the character is the one pressing the keys instead of me.

  3. Sharen Butrum permalink
    July 24, 2014 1:35 PM

    LOVE AND NOT DESTROY was such a wonderful book, and Peace such a great character, that I’m excited to know there will be a sequel!

    • July 24, 2014 2:23 PM

      Thanks, Sharen. You were there from the beginning and offered many insights that made it better.

  4. July 24, 2014 5:25 PM

    Hi Sandra, Wonderful post. I have experienced that phenomena a few times. The first time I couldn’t get past the third chapter. Finally I took a run with my character (who is also a runner) and I realized I was forcing her down a path she wouldn’t take. Gave the book an entirely new perspective. The second time was this week. I simply could not make my writing work. It was like running through jello. I started telling the story in the first person instead of close third – the words are flying. I guess if there is a lesson it’s know your characters because they know what they want.

  5. July 24, 2014 9:15 PM

    Good for you, Kait, for making those words fly. There’s no better feeling. I think you’re right about the importance of knowing your characters. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience.

  6. July 25, 2014 7:26 AM

    O think that always happens. Plus, your characters will not let you do anything outside their personalities and moral codes. I like when that happens to me!!

    • July 25, 2014 7:35 AM

      I believe you’re right, Kathye. It doesn’t take long for the characters to assert themselves – and I don’t think most writers would have it any other way.

  7. Sydell Voeller permalink
    July 25, 2014 9:04 AM

    Hi, Sandy! I’m starting a new novel, and although I think I know where it’s going, I’m waiting for my characters to speak to me. I love it when serendipity enters the picture!

    • July 25, 2014 1:17 PM

      Serendipity – the perfect word to describe the way characters speak. I’m excited to know you’re starting a new book. I love your stories and your characters. Thanks so much for stopping by.

  8. Rebecca Prazak permalink
    July 29, 2014 2:07 PM

    Great post Sandra and look forward to reading it

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