Tuesday, 17 April 2012

O is for Omnipotence

This is letter O in my A-Z series "26 Things that Made Me a Writer".

I struggled to come up with a word for O for a long time. Then last night, while cleaning up (yes, I did get up at 5.30am to write this - shhh, don't tell anyone I'm obsessed with the Challenge) it hit me. We all get to play God as writers and have the chance to be Omnipotent (or an Overlord, if you will). It was certainly attractive to me when I started (mwahaha - rubs hands together evilly).

But is it strictly true? It sparked an interesting debate for me. On the one hand, you have writers like Tolkien, who certainly does appear to be a kind of Creator-like entity as he invented an entire universe and filled it with peoples, landscapes, history, customs and languages. A stunning feat.

But among our most important creations (the most important, arguably) are our characters. And once they get on the page, they have a tendency to take over and have us dancing to their tune. Tolkien certainly seems to me more of a plotter than a pantser, but I would say in his case the characters are secondary to the overall myth-like effect.

Writers like Steinbeck have said that they felt like mere observers in their own stories, simply looking on and recording events from the sidelines. And I read an interview recently with an author (sorry, can't remember who or where but it was on a blog so that should narrow it down!) who said she knew her recurring characters, a pair of female detectives, so well that when it came to dialogue, she just tuned in and tried to type fast enough to keep up. I'd love to experience that.

So there is today's question: Do you feel like you retain ultimate control over your stories? Or do your characters take over and start telling their own stories, even if you might not like it?

Sorry this is not more in-depth. Think I'm suffering from sleep deprivation!

26 comments:

Trisha said...

I KNOW I'm suffering from sleep deprivation, so welcome to the club ;) As for characters taking over, I am not sure I've ever really experienced this...I mean, I am definitely not a plotter, so I guess my whole books could be said to be 'taking over', as I generally never know where they're going to end. But I haven't really ever felt like my characters were going against my wishes...that I know of, anyway!

Cynthia said...

When I have a very strong character fleshed out on paper, they can take on a life of their own separate from what I'd initially planned for them. ...I too should be sleeping more, but like you, the Challenge has been one of my obsessions this month. Speaking of which, obsessions is actually the topic for my O post.

Michelle Pickett said...

In my first novel I had an idea of what I thought the heroine would be - how she would behave. When I started writing I realized that she evolved into something far different than I had intended her to be. She wrote herself - I didn't write her. So, no, I don't feel like I'm in control of my characters. They most definitely have 'minds' of their own.

Michelle :)
www.michelle-pickett.com/blog

A to Z Challenger

Kyra Lennon said...

My characters definitely control me. I start off with an idea in my head, but when I am writing, the characters often decide to do their own thing. Luckily, what they want to do is usually better than my original plan lol!

Lynda R Young said...

I usually start with a plan, but my characters then take over. The story seems to only work when I let the characters do their thing.

Tobi Summers said...

I agree with Steinbeck. I can go into a story with all the best intentions, but then someone will say something, which will spiral, and there goes my (admittedly not very) carefully crafted plan.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Guess I'll go against the grain, but I've yet to have a character take over. He might develop some extra traits along the way, but it still goes according to plan. (Unlike Tolkien, the characters come first though.)
And approved of the Monty Python picture!

Deana said...

I am kind of a control freak so I would like to say I have control of all my writing, but there are just those times when your characters want you to shut up and take a back seat. I have to say I love those moments too:)

Mina Burrows said...

Both. If a character is really strong and I've gone and made a significant change, I'll have an inner debate with them. I know. It's sad, but I'm uh...seeking therapy for this. LOL. :)

Linda Jackson said...

Nick, this is an amazing post. I do feel like more of an observer in my stories than the creator. The characters tell the story; I write it down. And, yes, sometimes they tell it so fast that I can't keep up. :)

Hildred said...

I've always felt most like the "God" of my universes. I know everybody inside and out, and how they will best react to situations. I even tell them how they will react. But my characters do get a little leeway.. I've definitely sat down and just started typing dialogue/other interactions that became entirely organic and of the characters' own volition, so to speak.

I like to think I have a healthy balance. Then again it comes with the territory of writing in omniscient like I do - I am the narrator God, but I'm watching these characters do their thing whether they know I'm there or not.

Nick Wilford said...

Trisha - It's an interesting dichotomy. I guess you have some sort of plan subconsciously - maybe that's what going by gut instinct means?

Cynthia - I think it's only natural that once a character is walking around on the page, as it were, that they'll develop a life of their own as opposed to just being an abstract idea. I'll head over to your post!

Michelle - It's nice when they surprise you, isn't it? :)

Kyra - Hmm, I think many of us feel the same. I'm like you, my plans in any form wouldn't sound that great to read through!

Lynda - Yeah, and I guess it's also hard to predict how they will all play off against each other.

Tobi - It's great when that happens - very exciting! Like pulling at a loose thread...

Alex - I guess your omnipotent powers in blogging also extend to your writing! Jessica namechecked you today using this word, BTW. :)

It was the best God picture I found!

Deana - I try not to be a control freak. It's great to see where it takes you.

Mina - Good luck with making them bow to your will! We could probably all use therapy, TBH. :)

Linda - Amazing? Thanks!! I'm just glad it made sense considering I'd just woken up! Sounds exhilarating, the trying to keep up.

Hildred - A balance sounds good. I wish I knew my characters inside out... I'm a bit scared of my current MC, because she's in an extreme situation and I don't know what she's going to do!

Shelley Sly said...

I think ultimately I have most of the control in my writing. I'm a huge plotter, so that might be part of it. But there are frequent moments where my characters surprise me and take me in a slightly different direction, though not incredibly far from where I was headed, anyway.

The Golden Eagle said...

I hear people describe having their characters rule the writing of a story, but I don't think that's ever happened to me. I usually sense when one character's actions are wrong for their personality, but I feel like I have most of the control.


The Golden Eagle
The Eagle's Aerial Perspective

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Right now, the novel I'm working on could be told in two different ways. The first would be so much easier on me but when I think of it that way, I feel kinda "eh." The second way is more work for me but I feel that "hum" when I think of the story flowing that way. :)

C.B. Wentworth said...

Interesting topic!

When I started writing, I truly believed I had full control over the course of the story and the characters. Very quickly I realized nothing could be further from the truth. My character dictate their destiny and I let them take me wherever they want to go. :-)

Jessica Salyer said...

Great minds think alike. :) I have learned I have no control over what my characters do. I'll be writing along happily and bam, they do something I completely don't expect. I'm just along for the ride.

Melissa Sugar said...

I a slowly becoming more of a plotter, but even when I was a total pantser, my character never took over my story. Maybe my characters aren't creative enough, lol. I have read of many writers' whose characters totally take over, though.

E. Arroyo said...

For me it's a little bit of both. I have to be true to the character while leading them where I want them to go.

Elise Fallson said...

Well said! I think once a character gets well developed, you have no choice but to stay true to their personality.

Oh, and I love your pic.
"It's just a flesh wound!" (:

Elise Fallson said...

Well said! I think once a character gets well developed, you have no choice but to stay true to their personality.

Oh, and I love your pic.
"It's just a flesh wound!" (:

Nick Wilford said...

Shelley - It sounds like you have the best of both worlds.

Golden Eagle - I used to think it sounded silly when people said that, but there definitely is truth in it. Though it tends to be just the one main character who does most of the surprising for me.

Madeline - Yeah, I would definitely go for the less easy path - it'll end up being more rewarding!

C.B. - I'm the same!

Jessica - Those unexpected moments can be a real thrill.

Melissa - I'm sure your characters are great - either way is just as valid.

Elizabeth - A bit of both is good.

Elise - If I only knew their whole personality!

"What are you going to do, bleed on me?" I think that is my fave bit of the film too, haha...

emmakerry said...

I always read about writers claiming that characters took over the story, but always thought they were exagerating/crazy until my current story - once I get writing my MC leads the way. Nice post.

Nick Wilford said...

Emma - I had a similar experience. Thanks!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Nick .. I'm not omnipotent at the moment .. I'm about to disappear - but will look at the rest of your posts tomorrow.

In some ways you do probably describe what I do - I select what I can put in to the short space of 400+/- words for the Challenge, or my slightly longer 1,000+/- words for my normal every so often posts .. once every 5 days or so .. I enjoy myself and post for my readers - it makes me be quite selective ....

Cheers for now .. Hilary

Nick Wilford said...

Hilary - Thanks for going back through my posts. I'll head over and catch up on yours!

My normal posts are usually a bit longer too. I think it's good practice to be short and concise, though.