Welcome to my series of more creative writing DO’s. Today’s tip for aspiring novelists and/or story-writers is a really valuable one I had to learn the hard way. While the experience wasn’t wasted–I don’t think writing a novel is ever a failure, even if you can’t do anything with it— I didn’t realize this when I first started writing, and because of that, my first novel is more or less unpublishable and unable to be salvaged. So, what is this gem?
DO be the master of your plot, instead of letting your plot master you and your characters.
What do I mean by this? Well, here’s my example of how I messed myself up letting my plot master me.
Meet Danielle De l’Agravaine, or Danni. One of my favorite characters I’ve written about. She’s a seamstress with four brothers and she’s in love with one of their best friends, a knight named Michael. He’s taught her to fight with a sword, so when their kingdom goes to war, she follows him and saves his life in battle, though she is killed herself.
- I was determined to have that last bit of plot in my novel. As soon as I envisioned Danni’s character, I knew this needed to happen. Well, I knew I desperately wanted it to happen (mainly because I love Eponine from Les Miserables a bit too much.)
- I was so determined, I overlooked the fact that the actions that plot point entailed didn’t fit her character. Danni’s meek. She’s timid, and while she’s brave in a selfless kind of way, suffering in silence as Michael courts someone else whom she knows he adores and is meant to be with…. that doesn’t mean she’s the kind of girl who would disguise herself as a soldier and ride to war. It doesn’t mean she could get away with that successfully, even if she tried.
- I forced the character to act in a way that wasn’t genuine for her, and it just didn’t work. I let plot master me. I let the fact that I wanted something to happen override what should have been an instinct that this plot point didn’t make a lot of sense and wouldn’t happen in the story I was writing.
Give up the control! You’ll write better.
From that experience, I learned I can’t let what I want to happen guide my writing. Good fiction is and should always be character-driven. Every good writer learns along the way that really wishing something could happen isn’t enough to justify to putting it on the page.
Maybe you think your story is going somewhere cool. And you’re really excited, because you have all these ideas for some awesome scenes coming up that would just be amazing. And then something happens, and now, what you’d envisioned isn’t quite as feasible as it used to be. Some roadblocks have arisen that make it less credible, less sensible. The characters would have reasons to do something other than the actions that would lead up to your stellar, epic, world-changing scenes.
Let the world-changing scenes go. I promise, where your characters end up leading you will be so much better than what you expected!!! And you can always come back to your favorite aspects of the plot points you had to abandon, using them in a future project. You liked those ideas for a reason; you can still take advantage of them.
Just not in the novel or the story you expected.
I’ve learned to let the characters guide me. As a result, I’ve killed characters I didn’t want to kill and had to forgo writing some things I’d have loved to write. And as hard as that is, my writing is better for it than it otherwise would be.