Monday 21 November 2011

"The chickens are revolting!" by Eleanor Hutchinson

Excitement gave you the momentum to write your way through week 1. Bribing yourself with the edible treat of your choice ensured you survived week 2. Now there’s a good chance that you’ve arrived at a turning point in your novel. But what’s this? The hero doesn’t want to sweep the heroine off her feet? The villain would rather hang out in a coffee shop than plan his next fiendish trick? The secret that your main character was hiding has been revealed far too early by an insignificant minor character who really should have dropped dead by now?

Last year, my main character had a brief fling with a co-worker – or at least, she did in my plan. By the time I was halfway through the novel, he was resolutely knocking on the metaphorical door, doing his best to win her and me over. It worked and he made it to the end as a significant part of my main character’s life.

Whether your novel was planned down to every last detail, or you are just making it all up as you go along, there will be times when your characters are just not doing what you intended. You know what you want to write next, but they’re not cooperating. Everybody writes differently and thinks of their characters differently, but that doesn’t stop these figments of our imagination rebelling. For some, characters really do speak to you and tell you what they want. For others, it’s that little niggling doubt in the back of your mind that this scene does – not – feel – right.

My advice in this situation: just roll with it. If your hero would rather go shopping than save the world, let him. If a character waves at you and shouts “He’s not the bad guy, I am!” don’t ignore her. Because you know what that is? It’s your subconscious telling you a better way to write the story.

The part of you that wakes you up at 3am with an amazing idea; the part of you that is always making up stories and filing them away for future use; the part of you that remembers small details about other people’s conversations and idiosyncrasies that you can use in your writing. It is this part of you that truly drives the story. Ignore it at your peril.

Imagine that you were taking a journey and had planned out the route in advance. Halfway there, however, you come across road works. Do you sit there stubbornly until they are finished? In Scotland, you could be waiting for over a year. Do you resolutely plough through and find your car stuck in a pothole? The resulting damage could cost you hundreds. No, you find an alternative route. That is exactly what you must do when your characters start acting up.

Listen to the characters and listen to your gut. If you can’t bear to throw the plan out of the window, add in an extra scene that allows you to explore these new ideas that are appearing unbidden. Take the whole thread of your story off at a tangent if need be, but don’t forget to enjoy this part of the journey. It might take you miles out of your way, but you’ll reach your destination in the end and at least the scenery along the way will be interesting.

Eleanor Hutchinson is a teacher of the deaf from England, but living and working in Scotland. After nearly five years there, she is just about able to understand everyone. She has been writing ever since she was small, inheriting her story telling ability from her mother, who always made visits to the dentist far more exciting by telling her fabulous stories about villages inhabited by dogs to take her mind off the impending treatment. Throughout her adult life, Eleanor has been attempting to write novels but getting stuck at crucial points, until she found NaNoWriMo and the sweet bliss of silencing her inner editor with chocolate until the first draft was over. Since participating for the first time last year she has written (and finished!) three novels, one of which is on submission to literary agents. You can find her on NaNoWriMo and Twitter as BuddhistOnABus.

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