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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Guest Post by Author Denise Tompkins

A life-long voracious reader, Denise has three favorite authors. Why three? Because favorite authors are like chips: a person can’t have just one. Her little house was so overrun with books last year that her darling husband bought her an e-reader out of self-preservation. He was (legitimately) afraid she might begin throwing out pots and pans to make room for more books, and he didn’t want to starve.
Along with reading, Denise loves travel, is obsessed with the British Isles, practices photography, enjoys cooking and looks forward to Christmas as an excuse to bake.
Her debut novel, Legacy, is the first book in The Niteclif Evolutions and will be available in both e-book and print from Samhain Publishing.
You can find out more about Denise by following her on Twitter or fanning her on Facebook.

When Characters Decide to Steer

I laughed when I saw this picture. All I could think about was how much it represents what happens during my writing process. As a pantser, I rarely know what’s going to happen as I write, but there are general vague ideas that move through my mind as I try to navigate plot, character arcs, black moments, tension, etc. However, ideas or no, what always seems to happen is this: I’ll be moving along at a good clip, confident that my writing mojo is happening, when one of my characters does a 180 degree turn and hauls pants in the opposite direction. I’m left floundering as the other characters scramble to cover the plotting defection. Why, I wail, why did you do this to me?

The truth, at least for me, is that my characters tend to take on a life of their own as they move through the course of the story. They begin to think and feel and react in ways that are completely intrinsic to the personality I’ve developed for them—or the personality that has emerged across the course of pages—and I become their puppet as much as they remain mine. I follow where they lead me. I find myself anxious to learn what will become of these characters I’ve breathed life into when they make unexpected choices.

A perfect example comes at the end of Legacy when the presumed series hero is forced to make some hard, hard choices in the heat of the moment. The path he took still stuns me, the frustration he had with certain secondary characters bleeding into violent choices that one can never undo. I remember writing the scene and coming back to it thinking, Are you sure? Is this the right choice to make right here? But no matter what I tried to do in rewriting the scene, the facts stayed as they’d originally been written and I ended up leaving the original scene in the book, nearly untouched by edits.

Don’t be misled, though. Even characters that are plotted can also throw monkey wrenches into the author’s program when they make choices that are inconsistent with the plot the author has laid out. I’ve seen it happen time and again where critique partners will call me, bordering on furious, because one or more of their well-defined characters has done something so outrageous it stuns the author. I have a strange sense of vindication when this happens. It affirms for me that even the best laid plots can take unexpected turns.

Writing characters, whether human or shifter or mythological, almost always involves dealing with relatable emotions. Because emotions are often so unpredictable, it shouldn’t surprise us, as writers, when our characters fail to heel at our command. I’m learning, through the behaviors of my most recent very Alpha hero, to roll with the emotional gambits. For a fictional character, the guy’s a brilliant teacher.
Thank you Ms.Tompkins for guest posting today. I wish you the very best in all your future literary endeavors.

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