Sunday, November 13, 2011

Forever True?



As a writer, I most certainly want readers to enjoy my story.  With that said, I think there's a difference between writing a story that will make readers happy and writing a story that stays true to the characters and the way the story is meant to unfold. 

I think sometimes it's hard to stay true to our characters, especially when they want to go in a direction that may not make readers happy.  As a writer, what do you do? Do you write the story so it'll sell books and keep controversy to a minimum or do you listen to your characters and let them take the lead, even if you don't agree with "their" decisions.

As a pantser (a type of writer who does not plot things out, but rather writes by the seat of his/her pants), I let my characters take the story where they want to take it.  Sometimes it leaves me shaking my head and cringing.  The decisions my characters make aren't always the decisions I would have made for them.  Sounds silly, right?  After all, I'm the one writing the story.  And yet... I feel as though I'd be untrue if I wrote something that didn't fit what my character would do, or the decisions she/he would make.  I also think there's something to be said for writing the story you want to write, without being influenced by what others will think of you or your story.

If you've read my book, Viridis, there's a scene in there that left me cringing, and you'll likely know the one.  Would I have done what Phoebe did?  I don't know.  But what I do know is that the decision she made was true to her character, based on her fears and emotions at that point in the story.  Truth be told, I originally wrote the scene so I would know what Phoebe went through, but had no intentions of putting it in the book, for fear that readers would freak out.  However, my agent convinced me otherwise, explaining that Phoebe's reactions to what occurred seemed like an over-reaction if the reader didn't get to see what actually happened. I took her advise and put it in, and though I feel I remained true, sure enough, not all readers have been happy.

Once more, Devil on a Sparrow's Wing, book 2 in the series, left me thinking and rethinking the ending.  It would certainly be easier to pick an ending that would be less controversial, and yet... any endings other than the one chosen would not have been true to my characters.  I can only hope that my readers will know my characters well enough by then, and will understand it was what my characters would have done.

It isn't easy to stay true, especially when you know they'll be some backlash.  But I'm happy that I've stayed true to my characters, even if my story isn't everyone's cup of tea--not to say I won't try to make everyone happy if there's a way to do it and still keep in line with what my characters want.  ; )
 
How do you get around this sort of dilemma?  Do you find a way to tweak things so everyone's happy, including your characters and your readers, or do you throw caution to the wind and just write your story without giving it any thought?

16 comments:

Jemi Fraser said...

I love your guts! Having read both stories, I agree you stay true to the characters and their hearts - which is not always easy to do. When faced with the hardest decisions, your characters make choices that make sense - they're real people who are doing their best every step. Keep it up!

As for me, so far, my characters haven't put me to that test ... yet. We'll see what happens when they do! :)

Calista Taylor said...

Thanks, Jemi! You've been there through my debates when deciding what to do, and I'm glad to hear you felt I stayed true to the characters.

I'm sure yours will put you to the test before long, and I know you'll manage it just fine. : )

Matt said...

There are people who avoid all forms of negativity, like the news and worrying about anything. They a are market, and marketing to them or not, is probabally a decision that you'll have to make. Question is, do you have any passion for that market?

Calista Taylor said...

Matt, I agree that there's a market for that type of story, and there are likely writers for that story, also. I think that's fine if the writer is true to their story and characters.

As for me? I'm afraid my stuff is likely too dark for those readers.

Kelsey Jordan said...

I have to first say that I am working on reading Viridis. School is kicking my butt because its the end of the semester, but I will get to it before the end of the year.

Now as for me staying true to my characters...For the most part I think so. If I don't I can see where the story starts to derail. Case in point one of my characters is not very keen on losing in any form of the word. He ends up raping his consort to prove a point to another man. I cringe every time I go back and read it, but it was what he would do, because he's a jerk (put mildly). He dies a few pages later and good riddance. I just worry that even though the way I wrote it didn't spell it out (readers arent stupid) that the romance community will not be a big fan of that scene. But truthfully its a lie to do anything else.

Calista Taylor said...

Kelsey, I hope you'll enjoy Viridis when you're finally able to get to it-- totally understand how crazy the end of the semester can get.

I think you're doing the right thing with your characters. I think that the reader senses something's off when we alter the story from what it should be. Good for you for sticking to your guns. : )

Suzanne Payne said...

This sounds familiar..lol. I think you do a good job by 'going with your gut' when you write. That's what I try to do too. I think that's what we have to do ultimately. When I had that issue we talked about, I knew in my gut it wasn't quite right, I just didn't know how to fix it. That's why I jumped on your suggestion because in my gut your suggestion felt exactly right. If something doesn't feel quite right in your writing, then keep plugging at it until it does.
Great post!

Calista Taylor said...

It's so true that you sometimes know the solution when you hear it, and brainstorming with other writers always helps! Glad to hear I was able to be of assistance. : )

E.B. Black said...

I don't think a character is realistic unless we hate them and the decisions they make every once in awhile.

That being said, I am not a pantser, I am definitely a planner, so my characters almost never do anything they aren't supposed to do.

On the other hand, my stories also tend to be less character driven and what I struggle with sometimes is making the characters real and interesting and deep. It's actually harder to do when you've planned everything ahead of time because you're so focused on the plot, you forget the characters almost. At least that's how it is for me.

Calista Taylor said...

EB, that's so true that we need to hate them every now and then or they wouldn't be realistic.

I'll admit, my stories are more character driven, which is probably why they take over. It's always interesting to see the differences between pantsers and plotters. : )

Alli said...

I just read Viridis and finished it this morning.

I think had Phoebe NOT done what she did, it would not have made the story as intriguing as it was. That was a pivotal part of the book. (And my Kindle died half-way through it, I was panicking!)

As someone who wants to be published one day, I agree with you. The characters tell the story, I just write it. Things that happen may not be my decision, but wholly theirs.

Calista Taylor said...

Alli, I agree that it was pivotal to the story and her character, and I'm glad you found the story intriguing. Best of luck with your own stories! I think you're well on your way if you're listening to your characters.

Min Self said...

Personally I never start writing if I don't already know how the story is supposed to conclude, and the characters are always obliged to follow that plotline since that IS what makes it a STORY. If their personality doesn't seem in tune with their required actions, I go back and revise whatever appropriate section so that it will fit. That's how I operate -- but then I was trained in la commedia dell'arte where you'll ruin the whole play if you diverge too far from the scenario, so...

Calista Taylor said...

Min, my characters never behave themselves. lol. The closest I now get is having a vague idea of what direction the story's going.

Amanda Smith said...

Is there going to be a book three to the Viridis series?

Cali MacKay said...

Amanda, yes, I'm hoping to get a third book, though I'm not sure when it'll be out, since I've had to work on my Cali MacKay books. Hopefully soon! : )