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Still Exploring

June 28, 2015

One of the things I’ve grown to believe about writing is that stories are like children: they all develop at their own pace. As parents, we sometimes have to be patient and let our child grow according to his or her own timetable. As writers, we sometimes have to be patient and allow our story to reveal itself when it’s ready. Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote the following post about a work in progress. It’s a little embarrassing to admit that I’m still working on the same book – further along, but still a long way from completion. This story is taking its time revealing itself to me, but I choose to believe that its slow growth is a ripening process – both for the story and for me. At the moment, it’s the story that’s in control, not the teller.

?????????????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.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. June 29, 2015 6:16 AM

    I’m so happy to know there is a new Peace Morrow book in the works! I really enjoyed Love and Not Destroy, so this is good news. I can relate to the ‘slow to reveal itself’ story – have one of those simmering right now myself. Good luck on the journey of discovery!

    • June 29, 2015 8:02 AM

      Thanks, Cheryl, for taking time to read and comment and for the good words about Love and Not Destroy. Good luck with your simmering story too.

  2. June 29, 2015 7:10 AM

    So true, Sandra. We THINK we are in control of our stories, but that is not always true. I truly love being in the middle of a new book. it’s exciting to see where the characters will lead me! Thanks for sharing.

    • June 29, 2015 8:03 AM

      I so agree, Fran. It is an exciting journey, but sometimes bafflin g – as I said, very like raising a child.

  3. June 29, 2015 7:33 AM

    Thank you, Sandra. I’ve been there. I’m there now. Here’s an (already published) poem on just that topic, after hearing Stephen King talk about just this situation. My metaphors, his experience.

    His stories are not built,
    not laid out cold,
    as his godly fingertips
    hover and peck
    at the behest of his godly brain.
    He doesn’t know if the butler did it
    or even who got done.
    The weather of the story is sudden—
    He’s never ready; he’s drenched.
    Characters are not sent for
    to populate his pages, they invade.
    The girl in the yellow raincoat
    steps up quietly from behind to offer
    a share of her umbrella
    before he’s finished the deal
    with the grizzled geezer who
    insists it’s not garlic on his breath,
    it’s onions. Places only seem
    to be places King knows.
    Cities come up from below
    like Atlantis, streets named, flags
    raised, mayors in office.
    He is lost in their strange neighborhoods
    until the same girl, whose name
    he never finds out, turns up
    behind the counter in a diner
    and shows him on a napkin
    how to find his way back.

    Susanne Dutton

    • June 29, 2015 8:06 AM

      Love this poem, Susan. I read Stephen King’s “On Writing” and it made me feel better by my slowly-developing story. I’m not familiar with the poem. Did you write it? Thanks for sharing.

      • June 29, 2015 8:39 AM

        King gave an interview on PBS. The interviewer could hardly believe what he was saying. NO. I don’t know where the story goes. I find out! It knows! He said he begins with only an image: a boy on the beach in a wheelchair, holding a kite at the end of a long string. The story grows from the image and the images it generates. It’s his way, of course, but we can’t say it doesn’t work.

        I have written in more controlled ways, but when I do, I’m not as satisfied that the story is really there.

        And yes. Thank you. The poem is mine.

  4. June 29, 2015 9:48 AM

    I’m reminded of Wm. Faulkner’s saying that he began The Sound and The Fury with only the image of a little girl with muddy pants sitting in a tree. Most of the time, I write with a pretty good idea of where I’m going. Somewhere along the line, the story takes over and my idea evolves into something different. I really need at least an idea of where I’m going before I begin though.

  5. June 29, 2015 11:09 AM

    An award-winning writer friend of mine complained some years back to being 85,000 words into a novel and she still hadn’t found the story. That’s a terrifying statement to most people. Yet she continued to trust in the process—her process—and eventually the novel revealed itself and she revised, edited, polished, and sold it. A lot of work, but that’s her method.
    Also, I believe that the more fully developed your characters are, the more chance there is that they will exercise some agency in directing the events, sometimes in surprising directions.

    • June 29, 2015 2:35 PM

      Kudos to your friend. I think if I were 85,000 words in without know where the story was, I’d panic. I believe your’re right about the part character development plays in steering the story ship. Thanks, Gregory, for stopping by and sharing your insight.

  6. June 29, 2015 4:59 PM

    The first book in my series took years, but a lot of that was from constant revisions. Since then each story has been easier. I’m not an out liner, I’m a pantser, and althogh I have an idea of what I want to include in each chapter, my characters end up taking over and deciding what they’re going to do and say. In the beginning I know who my murder and victims will be, but in book four I couldn’t bear to have the murderer I’d planned be it. I liked him, too much. In my current and sixth book, I know my murderer, but have no idea how he/she is going to be exposed.

    • June 29, 2015 6:45 PM

      I had the same thing happen to me, Gloria. In one of my books, the victim really deserved what he got and my original murderer was someone who I couldn’t stand the thought of sending to jail, so I made someone else kill the guy. Thanks for stopping by.

  7. June 29, 2015 9:04 PM

    Good post and definitely resonates with my experience. I’ve twice written mystery novels where I wrote most of it with the idea of whodunit firmly in mind, only to approach the wrap-up and realize I had it all wrong! I love when that happens, though. That’s when I know the story is really alive and breathing.

    • June 29, 2015 9:14 PM

      I know exactly what you mean. I love it too. It convinces me more than ever that story is a living, breathing entity. Thanks, Karen.

  8. July 5, 2015 9:05 PM

    I loved this blog post, Sandy, and like most of the writers here, I can relate! Characters do tend to exert themselves in ways we least expect and do surprise us. As you said, honoring the process and being patient is critical.

    I also have been struggling with my second “Loreen” novel but a secondary character — or so I thought — is demanding to have HER story told instead. So I am waiting her out, to see what happens.

    As to your work in progress, I know that after it’s written it’s going to be like the rest of your books — a wonderful read!

    • July 5, 2015 9:14 PM

      What you’re describing is exactly what I’m experiencing. Characters do seem to have a mind of their own – not a bad thing. Thanks for sharing.

  9. July 9, 2015 2:57 PM

    I can definitely relate to this – as you’ve probably read on my own blog, lol. Especially my newest cast of characters. They’re playing it close and refusing to give up any control.

    I’ve not read the Peace Morrow book, but I look forward to discovering it. I certainly love the name!

    • July 9, 2015 3:33 PM

      I have read on your blog that your characters have a mind of their own – a good thing. It means they’re real. Thanks for sharing.

  10. July 11, 2015 2:45 PM

    I’m in the middle of just such a story. I write ‘organically’ – let the words and characters flow as they will, and their will (in the sense of having one) doesn’t always make a good story. In this current novel, the characters insist on being happy – all the time! No matter what other characters and events throw in their way, they will be happy with each other. Sigh!

  11. July 11, 2015 3:57 PM

    LOL Not a bad problem to have, Leigh. Well, it wouldn’t be bad in real life, but I can see how this would present a problem in fiction. Let me know how this story goes. I love to be in the presence of happy people and I’d love to know these characters. Thanks for sharing.

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