Am I Doing This Right?

When Your Characters Are Smarter Than You


I imagine people write children’s novels for a lot of different reasons.  The joy their books will bring.  Freedom from the restraints of adult novels.  The chance to write for an unjaded audience.  Money.

Wielding the limitless power of a god, with total control over the laws of the universe and the fates of every single person within it.  Am I right?  Anyone?  I know you’re out there.

The problem with being a serious writer (or a god, I imagine) is when your creations take on independent lives and start to edge down paths of their own choosing, in utter disregard for all of your careful planning and clever machinations. What cheek!  What blasphemy!  But you can rest easy in your lofty perch because you know you can smite them with a gesture, crush them between your mighty fingers and sweep them away like so much detritus.  I’m still talking about writing, here.

It’s painful, sometimes. We all have our favorites, and when they turn against us erasing them can be heartbreaking.  It’s an occupational hazard.  However there occasionally comes a time when you have to stop and take a second look before you unleash your wrath.  Because every once in a while your creations — your characters — will be smarter than you.

I was struggling with a scene in my daughter’s and my second novel, The Last Faerie Godmother.  I kept working at it every day, but no amount of perseverance could move the thing forward.  This happens to everyone now and again, and it often means there is something fundamentally wrong with the scene that your brain can’t see but your heart can feel.  At times like these it’s sometimes helpful to give some slack in your characters’ leashes and see where they run.

This particular scene involved the princess and her best friend spying on the members of her own court, because she suspects there is a conspiracy, or at the very least some secret being kept from her.  And no matter what I did, the thing sat there like a shapeless wet lump of clay.   So I let the characters off of their leashes.

It turns out it’s not polite to spy on your fiends, and the BFF had a serious problem going along with my plan.  And all of a sudden the light breaks through the clouds and angels sing, and the scene feels right again.  Of course, now I have to erase all of my careful planning and clever machinations, and get down in the mud with my creations so I can see where they want to go.

It’s humbling. They don’t talk about this in the god writer’s manual. But sometimes you just have to acknowledge when your characters are smarter than you.