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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Guest Blog: Josephine Myles

When characters develop a mind of their own...

Before I started writing my first novel, I used to imagine writers more as puppet-masters - planning out their novels and orchestrating everything to fit within that outline. As my only writing experience had been with short stories, nothing I'd yet encountered had contradicted that. I was able to plan out a narrative and then write it almost exactly as I'd expected. Is it any wonder I didn't find the experience all that exciting? There was no spontaneity involved, and I lost interest in writing for a good few years.

When I discovered the joys of writing erotic romance and was in the process of planning out my first novel, I thought I needed to know everything about what was going to happen. I had character sheets with detailed histories, a rough outline for the whole plot, and yet still I imagined I needed more. I could have gone on planning until I'd killed all the joy in the whole project. It took an experienced writer to tell me: "just get going and see what happens. You'll discover the story as you go along." Boy, was she right!

I began writing Barging In eighteen months ago, and while the first few scenes went exactly according to plan, I soon realised that I had a loose cannon in the character of Robin. I thought I knew him inside out, but clearly I was wrong as he kept doing unpredictable things. He was meant to be staying closeted at home, avoiding other men, yet he decided he wanted to go out to a gay bar. His first sex scene alarmed me as I had no idea he was that dominant. Worse yet, he would refer to things in his past that weren't on my history sheet for him. I would find myself staring at the computer screen, asking myself where the hell did that just come from? I was the puppet-master, wasn't I? It was like someone had cut all the strings and my puppets were parading around all by themselves.

Since then I've become much more relaxed about planning stories. I have discovered that many of my strongest scenes come about as a result of characters taking charge and doing things I couldn't have predicted. Yes, in my subsequent drafts I have to go back and change earlier details in light of things the characters tell me later on, but I think the extra work in the drafting process is a small price to pay for having vibrant, lively characters who take charge of their own narratives.

Writing is never boring when your characters have minds of their own. I'm no longer a puppet-master, I'm more like a Domme – I can set up the scene but my characters are feisty subs and are prone to insubordination, refusing to follow my orders. Sometimes they even use their safewords, yelling: “there’s no way I’m doing that – it’s out of character!”

It can be frightening at times, and it takes a huge amount of faith to just let loose and see where the story leads me, but it's exhilarating and I couldn't go back to planning every last detail ever again.

What about you? Readers, do you think you can tell the difference between a meticulously planned and a "seat of the pants" type novel? And writers, do you have a preference for staying in control, or do you let your stories lead you where they want to go?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: English through and through, Josephine Myles is addicted to tea and busy cultivating a reputation for eccentricity. She writes gay erotica and romance, but finds the erotica keeps cuddling up to the romance, and the romance keeps corrupting the erotica. She blames her rebellious muse but he never listens to her anyway, no matter how much she threatens him with a big stick. She's beginning to suspect he enjoys it.

Jo once spent two years living on a slowly decaying narrow boat, and was determined that she would one day use the experience as fodder for a novel. It may have taken a few years, but she got there in the end. She usually does. Barging In, her first novel, was released by Samhain Publishing on 20th September 2011.

Visit Jo’s website for more about her published stories, saucy free reads and regular blog posts.


Prue said...

Interesting question. I'm not sure I can tell the scenes which were planned from those which rose unbidden from the depths. Maybe I'm not an experienced enough writer? I don't know.
As for writing, when my characters started to do things and I saw it appearing on the screen, I was enchanted, captivated and tickled to bits :D
I find it addictive and it's what keeps me writing. It comes from my head yet seems to be nothing to do with me. Awesome :D

Becky Black said...
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Becky Black said...

I'm a planner, but very much a flexible one. My outline is not finished when I start drafting, it keeps evolving. Usually because the characters think they're in a "choose your own adventure" story, where they can go off in directions I never gave them permission to take. :D

JL Merrow said...

I'm a total pantser. I usually have a vague idea of some sort of climactic scene - but even that can change as I go along. In the novel I'm writing at the moment (Hard Tail) there's a character I introduced solely to give one of my MCs a reason to be caught out in a lie. Blow me if he doesn't end up hooking up with the other MC, causing untold angst down the line! ;)

Tavdy said...

LOL @ Jamie, I'm dealing with something similar in one of mine, only there are four MCs - RT, Cam, Mike and Bucket. Originally there was supposed to be two couples at the end, but Bucket has decided to screw things up by falling in love with both guys in the other couple - to their benefit. That couple's relationship is unconventional in the extreme, and was headed for the rocks right from the start, however Bucket has somehow managed to provide the stability and experience needed to resolve their problems.

And the third guy? You don't need to worry about him.

Josephine Myles said...

@ Prue - hopefully there's no difference in the two kinds of scenes for the reader, as all writing is fairly spontaneous anyway.

I know exactly what you mean about it being enchanting! It is like it comes through you, rather than from you, isn't it?

@ Becky - that's great that your plans are flexible. I reckon that's the key to using them successfully. I mean, it's all very well to plan to have a character do something, but if they decide it's out of character for them, then to try and force them is madness!

Josephine Myles said...

@ Jamie - Oh yes, I've had characters do things like that too! Charles and Tris were never meant to reappear at the end of Barging In, but they decided they wanted more lines than I was giving them ;)

@ Tavdy - Bucket sounds like another loose canon - I'm glad he's sorted out the other characters' problems for you! Must be odd to find yourself writing a menage when you didn't plan to, though ;)

Stevie Carroll said...

My characters never behave the way I expect them to!

Josephine Myles said...

@ Stevie - I'm so glad it's not just me!