05 August 2009

Words from the Wise: Artists Must Abandon Control

Abandon control? That sounds rather oxymoronic. I mean, aren't we, the writers, supposed to be in control of our story? Aren't we supposed to hold the reigns, veering our characters and plot to the left, the right, pulling back if they get too far off course? That sounds right. But is it?

I'm at a place in my writing where I could easily tell myself what I'm going to do next. I mean, the books are written. The query letter is in the works. I should be able to just pick and choose what I do next right? Right?


The reason being: the story I think I should be writing and the story that wants to be written are two different things. I thought I was going to finish this trilogy and begin working on the novels that continue this tale. (What is this tale about exactly? Oh...I haven't told you! Silly me! It's a new take on the Atlantis legend centering around a seventeen year old girl from Savannah, Georgia and a mysterious necklace she find hiding amongst the seaweed. The further along we go, we discover all sorts of dark secrets. Sinister things are running amok in Atlantis and, as we shall soon discover, throughout the entire world!) I almost sat down and outlined it the other day. But...

I couldn't. I mean, I was perfectly capable of doing so. But something inside me wouldn't let me do it. Why? I need this story to be complete! After Atlantis, our characters venture further into the lands of myth. I really want to see what will happen to them! "Wait!" my heart was telling me. "There's something else you need to do first. Somewhere else you need to go."

So I went. I discovered the plot behind a first line I wrote five years ago, a line I loved but had yet to figure out where it belonged. I sat down and in the span of an hour, I wrote out the first chapter of this new story. It's another fantasy, set in the deep south with a parallel to another world. And yes, another dark and sinister realm of myth and folk tale. I like playing in that world. It's so very full of possibilities for enlightenment.

What does all this have to do with abandoning control? Simple. When we sit down to write (be it a continuing saga or a fresh, new story), we have our ideas, our outlines, our characters sketches. This is good. We need a form, a skeleton if you will, for our imaginations to cling to. Once we have that sketched out, we're ready to write. We sit down and begin to type. Then, quite suddenly, we see our characters doing things we didn't tell them to do. Plots begin to twist and turn, going down pathways we didn't construct. What is going on? We sit down to write one thing, but our hands begin typing another. Should we worry? Have we been taken over by sadistic plot changing aliens?

The best plan of attack for this is none. That's right. None. Follow that rabbit trail. See where it leads. It's not like you can't come back on track if it ends up at a dead end. A lot of times, rabbit trails help to get your mind off the problems you're having and let you steer your way through and around them in ways you would never have planned to do.

Madeleine L'Engle said that often, our characters know more than we do. I agree. My trilogy is a case study in having a well thought out plan and having it uprooted, turned on it's head, and looking nothing like it originally did. But you know what? I like it. In fact, I love it. It works. It's not as stiff as the original version. Everything fits.

What of this new story I'm writing? I would add to Mrs. L'Engle's wisdom by saying our hearts often know more than we do. If you feel the urge to take your story in a strange and different directions, do it. If your current work is stale and you're itching to wander down a leaf covered path, barely visible in the sun dappled forest, go for it. Wander. Collect wildflowers along the way. Keep your eyes open. You could get the breakthrough your current novel needs. Or you may find yourself caught up in another story entirely. Don't be afraid to deviate. The best adventures are not the ones we plan but the ones we are given.

Happy writing!


Kristen Torres-Toro @ Write in the Way said...

You're so right! God always knows where my stories are going to go, my characters always know, but I most definitely don't! HA!

We just have to be willing to go there, to follow them no matter where they lead.

Jody Hedlund said...

I agree that our stories often seem to write themselves at times! They take us new places that we never imgained. And that's so cool when that happens!

Each writer needs to determine what story is best for them, but I will say that if you are pitching your book in your query as a series, you will probably need to have something going on next in the series. Not sure if that's true in every case, but having two books in the series already completed will speak highly for you as try to find agents and editors.

All that to say, I think that our creativity can lead us in different directions that we originally intended! We're wise not to ignore it!

SM Blooding said...

I'm kinda on the fence on this one. My mind says that I'm in control. I choose what I write when.

But...if I were truly honest with myself? I'm a complete and total flake. I don't control my characters. I'm lucky to get all the right characters into the same scene!

*hangs head in shame*

However, I have written a lot of novels and they've all been pretty good. So, however I do it, I'm doing something right. LOL!

CKHB said...

All I'll say is that it's so much EASIER to write when the characters take the lead... but sometimes I have to make plans so that I can still have something to write if creative inspiration doesn't lead me somewhere unexpected.

coffeelvnmom said...

I've found that after a few days of intensely concentrating on a certain aspect of the story, I tend to hone in on one specific "piece" of the puzzle.

So often I make myself take a few days off, refusing to even look at the storyline.

And then I go back in and read it, and my fingers take off again - as if they know exactly what was missing on the screen!;)

Glynis said...

I think you have just given me permission to start my,'I have a title but no storyline' project!
I am fighting laying out the story, it is coming to my cell daily, but I fight it as I am still plodding through novel one, got the follow up to that dropping in and saying hi, now and then, so I feel I should ignore number 3. Now I will sit and see where my keyboard takes me ;0
What an interesting post, thanks.

JStantonChandler said...

Hi Jody! Great advice; in fact, my entire trilogy is finished. I made sure of that before I even started writing a query for the first book. I have some ideas for furthering the story, but right now, I need a break!

SM Blooding : thanks for stopping by! I battle between the two also. I'm the writer! I'm in control! But when I pause to listen to what the story is saying, it always comes out better than if I'd tried writing it out of my head! Glad to meet you!

CKHB: it's much easier for me to write when the characters take the lead. It's just hard for me to LET them! If I'd just get out of the way and type, things would go much more smooth!

coffeelvnmom: I admire your focus! I usually just leave the work when I hit a brick wall. Not the best idea, but it's what I do. Then, out of the clear blue, the answer will come to me and it's *whoosh* back to the desk and back to typing!

Glynis: hooray! Go after that new story! I rarely get my titles first. In fact, for this trilogy I just finished, the titles didn't come until they were all written! I'm excited to hear about this new venture of yours :)

ajgallion said...

Jen, I totally agree with this adventurous notion to allow your writing to wander. Thing is, I think I wrote a whole novel based on that premise of wandering and with the amounts of query rejections I've received on it -- I wonder if I wandered too far. But then again, it is my first complete novel, maybe I needed to just get it out of the way so that I could make space for something new and more aligned with the writer I am today.

Terresa said...

Excellent thoughts here. As Frost once said, taking the path less traveled made all the difference...

JStantonChandler said...

ajgallion: sometimes we have to write one thing in order to clear the way for something else. I have three books that I've written that will probably never see the light of day! But I had to write them, get them out of the way, so I could move forward.

Terresa: that's one of my favorite quotes! Thanks for stopping by and following!

Melanie Dickerson said...

I like your philosophy, Jen! And I like your stories' mythic fun! Go with it, girl!

And do get a Jane Austen book. It's food for the mind and the writer-soul.

Gypsy Scribe said...

Thanks, Melanie!

Austen is on my list after I conqueor Stoker :)

Jen (commenting as my other blog identity :)