Authors, do you guide your books or do they guide you?
May 22, 2013
There is a saying in golf, when someone hits a bad shot, that the golfer was trying to “guide the shot.”
I’m not much of a golfer, but I have a general sense of what that expression means. It means that on the particular shot the golfer let himself focus on where he wanted the shot to go, not on swinging away at it.
Usually the result of a guided shot is one that didn’t go where the golfer intended and didn’t have any pizzazz.
For me, writing is much the same.
I read books that sound like the plot was so painstakingly contrived that the characters couldn’t come up for air.
I can’t fault writers for taking great pains to be careful and thorough with their craft.
But there is always the danger that carefulness will choke the life out of a book.
Life isn’t neat and clean, so why should books about life portray it so? Doesn’t every human situation have some rough edges and un-resolved issues?
I like messy books, books where the characters misstep, make awkward remarks, guess wrong about things, give in to their biases.
I like a book that sounds like it was written in the back seat of a Chevy station wagon on a long road trip to Cleveland. (I have no idea what that sentence means, but it worked just fine in context.)
It really doesn’t matter if a writer is a pantser, an outliner or a first and laster. Regardless of how she organizes her story before she begins writing, she must be open to a chance occurrence, an unexpected twist, a stranger who comes calling.
Those who don’t write sometimes think authors are pulling their legs when they say, “The characters made me do it.”
But it’s the truth. A character has a personality and a presence. Just imagine if you spent six months locked in a cell with someone. You would come to know him pretty well. It is no different for an author who spends that amount of time with a character. For her, the character is as much a person as a flesh and blood acquaintance. Perhaps more so. If the author writes a series, she may literally spend years with some of her characters.
The writer can’t tell her characters to sit down and shut up when they misbehave or take off on a tangent.
If she can guide them where she wants them to go, they aren’t characters who will much interest readers.
They will be like that guided golf shot that went in the wrong direction and lost all its fizz.