Creative writing is like a box of chocolates: how to “git” what you want from that box

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What do fiction and chocolates have in common with life in general? How does creative writing relate to a sweet tooth? That’s the topic of today’s post.

Forrest Gump’s mother, played by Sally Field, once told her son, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna git.”

Well, writing a novel can be a lot like life, at least when you’re a “pantser” like me and don’t use an outline.

Maybe that’s why we write. Maybe the discoveries, the uncertainties, and the twists and turns involved in writing a novel help usย  deal with the uncertainties of life.

I’ve written before about a time I went to the grocery store just to pick up a couple of items I needed. I had a plan for dinner, or I thought I did. Then I ran into a friend, who got to talking about meat, and all of a sudden, my plans changed.

I was going to cook chili. I was going to buy the ingredients for chili and make a big pot of it, and have leftovers all week. And that’s exactly what I did.

I related that experience to characterization: to how an author should be open to their characters changing plans and deciding to make chili. This is a common occurrence while drafting a novel. In fact, it’s more common than I ever would have thought before I wrote my first book.

The joys and frustrations of your characters surprising you that way provide just one example of how creative writing is like life, and like that box of chocolates.

Sometimes you don’t get what you want

Sometimes you really want that caramel-filled chocolate, but you pick the almond one. Sometimes you want dark, and all that’s available is light.

Writing’s the same way: as is life. You can’t always get what you want, because some things are simply outside our control, such as the thoughts, actions, motives, and desires of other people. Of our characters.

On occasion, the discoveries our character lead us to, as if by chance, are so superior to anything else we’d considered, that there’s no problem. I only thought I wanted a caramel. When I saw that piece of chocolate that’s clearly coated in coconut that I didn’t know was in there, I changed my mind.

On other days, I don’t want the coconut. All that’s in the box is coconut, though. I had my heart set on a truffle, and it looks like I’ll have to settle for coconut.

Sometimes, when this occurs, all the author can do is give in. Is accept that even though our idea for that awesome scene was inspiring and exciting, the sceneย  doesn’t fit the novel that we’re writing. There’s no space for it in the chocolate box.

We might be able to use parts of it in the novel, or use it in a different novel. But it’s never a good idea to throw in a scene just because you want to write it, or because you like the idea of it.

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Other times, though, there are strategies you can use to maybe make the scene fit after all. Here are some suggestions about how to determine if the scene you want is possible.

  • Alter, if you can, a character’s situation. Or knowledge base. Your problem is that you want your character Joslyn to choose option A, but her instinct would be to choose B. Well, consider this: In what circumstance would she conceivably choose A? If she had more, or maybe less, information, would that impact her choice? Is it possible to alter your story a bit, so that the character logically would possess either more or less information? If some event would have to happen to change how she thinks or feels about the situation, would such an event make sense, or even improve your story as it now stands?
  • Are you missing a character? Do you have one too many? Could you fuse two characters into one? Sometimes, adding to or otherwise altering your cast of characters can be a great solution to this problem. Why? Changing your players changes the game and how the game unfolds, because character drives fiction.

Changing who your characters are (to some extent) or altering the situation in which they find themselves can set you up for the scene you want to write. Remember, though, your characters need to be consistent in their personality and their thought processes. If you realize that a character isn’t who you originally thought, that “new” character needs to run throughout the whole work.

While major characters can and should change somewhat through the course of a novel, that change is the result of a natural development that must be plausible in the eyes of the reader.

When the chocolate you want just isn’t there

What happens, though, when the truffle you really wanted doesn’t fit in the box of chocolates you started out with? And you can’t make it fit?

Don’t force it in. And don’t fret. You can always use that idea later on. You can write a sequel, or you can take your plot point and apply it to entirely new characters in an entirely new situation. Who knows? You might end up liking that even better than you would have liked your original idea.

Of course, you can always write the scene you wanted to write, the way you wanted to write it, just for you. To make you happy. Nothing wrong with that at all. Who said everything you wrote had to be with the express purpose of publication? That you can’t ever write a scene for the heck of it and not attach it to a larger work?
No one, that’s who.

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23 responses to “Creative writing is like a box of chocolates: how to “git” what you want from that box

  1. Reblogged this on 1WriteWay and commented:
    Victoria is a writer after my own heart. She captures my feelings about writing so well: “Maybe the discoveries, the uncertainties, and the twists and turns involved in writing a novel help us deal with the uncertainties of life.” She teaches me about writing through her blog, making me think hard and productively about why I write the way I do and how I can improve my writing. And she’s a fellow “pantser” ๐Ÿ™‚ Please visit her blog, and enjoy!

  2. Couldn’t resist reblogging this post ๐Ÿ™‚ I love these two sentences: “Maybe thatโ€™s why we write. Maybe the discoveries, the uncertainties, and the twists and turns involved in writing a novel help us deal with the uncertainties of life.” That is exactly why I started writing and what keeps me writing now.

    • I’m so glad the post resonated with you! I know that’s why I write as well. I love the adventure of it…. I don’t use an outline, so I truly have no idea what’s going to happen to my characters.

  3. Reblogged this on Legends of Windemere and commented:
    This is a great post on characters.

  4. I have to admit that even as a planner, my characters will do something that changes things. Especially when starting out, an author has to remain flexible and realize they’re getting a feel for the characters. Love the chocolate analogy.

    How often do you find yourself going ‘that was unexpected’ while writing?

    • I do that ALL the time. I have one memory in particular of an argument between a good guy and a bad guy. The good guy made an off-hand comment revealing he was going to return to the kingdom of Herezoth for good, and I realized…. ooh, bad guy won’t like that. He’ll try to put a stop to that.

      And he did. I had actually been planning for the hero character to relocate. Didn’t happen.

      • Glad to hear I’m not the only one. In one book, a character noticed an unresolved issue between two others and dragged them to meet up. It was funny because I kept looking at the chapter and going ‘there’s a scene missing. I know there is.’ Took me a while to figure out what it was too because it stemmed from a single line of dialogue in the middle of the chapter.

  5. This is an excellent post! Thanks to the reblog that led me here, looks like I will really enjoy your blog ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, Jayde! Feel free to stop by any time ๐Ÿ™‚ And make sure to check out the comments too…. there’s a great community here with a lot of insight ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. I have to admit, I do use an outline for my writing, and I draw my characters and maps. I create character diamonds…etc. However, and outline is just that, an outline. What happens in between to get my character from point A to point B is still a mystery, and I have a great time filling in the blanks. Great post Victoria! ๐Ÿ˜€

    • Thanks! I love what you say here about outlines, and I completely agree. I’ve written a post in the past about how outlines are wonderful tools, as long as you approach them in a flexible manner. That’s exactly what you say here ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Hi – one of the reblogs got me here and I know I am going to enjoy following your blog from now on. Your post is brilliant and up until I wrote my first novel, would have made no sense to me whatsoever. I always believed that we are completely in control of our characters so I started out with a rough outline of where things were headed when I sat down to write. I knew beginning, middle and end so was satisfied that things would progress exactly to plan. How wrong I was! Conversations happened that I didn’t expect and there were even additional characters popping up all over the place. I would definitely consider myself to be a pantser now and I am so grateful that through this blog land, I’ve finally found out what that word means! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • me too! I never knew what a “panster” was, but somehow, the first time I saw it in the blogosphere, I knew where the term came from and I knew I was one! ๐Ÿ™‚

      I’m so glad you’ve found my blog, Jade! And I’m thrilled you related to this post. Thanks for sharing your experience…. I think that “writers control the characters” is one of the biggest misconceptions people have about writing fiction before they do it. I know I had that misconception too. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. I have nominated you for the most influential blogger award, dear friend Victoria. Please click on the link below for more information (No rules for you). Please accept and oblige. http://saminaiqbal27.wordpress.com/2013/05/22/most-influential-blogger-award/ โ€Ž

  9. What an excellent post. I totally relate. I am a pantser.When I began my WiP, I had a light fantasy in mind–lots of slapstick and silliness. What I wound up with is a fantasy where my soul bleeds all over the page. I didn’t know the journey my characters would put me through. Had I known at the start the pain I would revisit (and some parts are autobiographical), I wonder if I would have embarked on this journey. I know that sounds silly. After all, we control the ride, right? Not really. The character dictates the route.

    I wanted a nice calm raft ride on a placid river. She took me on a rapids-filled ride, one on which I nearly drowned and gave up. But we completed our journey. She changed. I changed.

    Writing is frightening, awesome, and wondrous. Like you said, sometimes you get different fillings. Some you want. Some you don’t. Writing changes you.

    • Wow. What a beautiful memoir you have here! Thanks so much for sharing your journey. Congratulations on completing it. It wasn’t an easy one. I love your analogy about the rapids. It’s so, so true. My fiction has opened up some wounds as well. It’s tough, but I’m better for it. It sounds like you can say the same ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Pingback: Who Are You? - Mutual Spiritual Affinity

  11. Pingback: Tuna Salad and Creative Writing…. A Connection, Please??? | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

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