A story is an entity of its own.
The characters will seek you out, arising from the depths of the creative universe. They will ask you to complete a seemingly simple task: write their story. Record them on paper so they can finally be seen and heard.
Despite all the writing advice that exists in the world today, I sincerely believe this is the way a story really works. You don’t control anything. You don’t get to decide the plot, or the character’s personalities and actions, or how the entire thing ends.
The story already exists. You are simply the scribe.
Your task is only to listen and record. You have to utilize your creative energy to connect with the story and characters in a way that allows you to produce the most detailed images of what has already occurred.
In theory, this should make the whole “writing a book” endeavor so much easier.
Because, if the story is already there, simply writing it down should be just that: simple. The characters will give you their take, the images you receive will show you what you need to describe in the text, and by loyally following what you’re being told, you can create an entire work of fiction.
Well, not really. Because you’re human. And humans have a way of trying to control things.
In your day to day life, you attempt to control everything that comes your way: your emotions, your thoughts, your actions, your schedule, your partner, your friends, your meals, your appearance.
So what chance would your story stand against your drive to control? It wouldn’t. You are more than likely going to try to put your own spin on the information that is coming your way.
You’re going to receive images that are disturbing and unpleasant, and so you’re going to record them in a way that doesn’t make you feel quite so uneasy.
You’re going to hear a message from your character that makes you uncomfortable, and so the way you write it down is going to be filtered through your own version of rose-colored glasses until what they have to say doesn’t make you squirm.
The problem is, by changing what you’re supposed to be recording, you aren’t writing the truth anymore.
There’s nothing to be ashamed about if you’re doing this. We’re human and we can only take so much unpleasant information before we shut down. Each of us has our own threshold depending on our psychology and experiences in life.
But, in order to write a truly engaging, colorful, powerful story, we have to give up our tendency to control and filter, just a little bit, and just in this context.
We do this by trusting our story.
We have to learn to trust our characters. Trust that they alone know themselves and their take on the story. Isn’t it true that you are the only person who knows yourself best and knows your story better than anyone else? The same is true for your characters.
I got blocked recently in my book because I stopped trusting my characters.
I didn’t want to accept that one of my main characters is really, really angry about her circumstances. Furious. A rage is just bubbling up inside her. I’m sensitive and empathic, so feeling my character’s rage scared me. I tried to force her into a neat little box of happy-go-lucky, everything-is-fine, and guess what she did? She clammed right up and disappeared.
Thankfully, once I acknowledged her pain and anger, she came right back.
I trusted her, and so she started to trust me again.
I also didn’t want to accept certain personality traits about my characters. However, a writing coach of mine suggested I do a personality test for each of my main characters based on the Myers-Briggs system. One of my characters typed as an ISTJ (one of the most common personalities in Western society), and I almost didn’t want to believe it.
I didn’t want to believe it because I’ve had bad experiences with ISTJ’s, and I didn’t want my character to fall into the same category as those people. She was supposed to be better than that. She was supposed to be unique.
But something interesting happened when I acknowledged her true ISTJ-like personality. I realized that there are people out there with this particular set of personality traits who are not bad people. They are good people with their own unique quirks and strengths and weaknesses, and this makes them whole and complex human beings. There exist ISTJs out there who are really cool people. Not boring or common at all, and also not cold-hearted jerks. My character came to life once I saw her as a unique person, deserving of my respect and admiration for who she really is.
And the plot line itself?
No amount of planning and mind mapping is going to help me with that. I’m a visual person, so whatever I end up seeing in my mind’s eye regarding the scenes of the book, I’m just going to have to accept as the next step in the book’s natural progress.
No more worrying about whether those scenes fit in with the overall storyline, or whether they are chronological, or whether they make any sense at all. What I’ve learned is that the overall storyline is not even remotely under my control, so I might as well not try to understand it as I let it flow out my fingertips and onto the page.
It all comes down again to that one word: trust.
Trust your characters.
Trust your visions.
Trust your story.
And then the story will trust you.
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And if you haven’t checked her out yet, my writing coach is Lauren Sapala, and she has a fantastic array of blog posts for sensitive, intuitive writers. Head on over and see what she has to offer! http://laurensapala.com/