Who wins in the fight between writer and character? Read on as Our Year of the Novel Blogger, Caro, comes into conflict with a man named Nick…
My protagonist and I had our first big fight this week. It was over something silly – but then, I suppose it always is.
I had been mapping out the broader plot and summarising my scenes. It’s a process that’s both tedious and exciting. Tedious because it involves a lot of red lines, false leads and questioning of my sanity; exciting because for the first time I can start to see the novel come together as real possibility. It was beginning take on a shape and momentum of its own, to feel real, and I was enjoying myself.
But in the middle of it all, my lead character interrupted my self-congratulations.
“That’s a terrible idea,” he said. “I’d never do something like that.”
Now this might seem like a bold and stupid thing for a fictional character to say to his creator. I’ve got to admit, I considered throwing a particularly nasty hurdle into the plot to teach him a lesson. A nasty bout of food poisoning, perhaps, or a soul-crushing rejection from an on-again, off-again lover. It would certainly be satisfying to yell “THAT’LL SHOW YOU, PROTAGONIST” as I inserted the scene. “I BET IT’S THE LAST TIME YOU QUESTION MY AUTHORITY”.
But as tempting as this was (especially for a busy writer who was doped up on cold and flu medication), I paused for thought before retaliating. The thing about Nick is I gave him all his characteristics. I needed him to develop certain traits to help him emerge from the final chapters and challenges victorious. He had to be stubborn. And he had to learn to fight for things. Maybe it’s inevitable he’d turn around and use those traits on me.
And here’s the funny thing: I enjoyed the fight. Fighting with real people is messy – it’s loud and emotional and it feels strange for days after. But fighting with Nick was wonderful. Not because he’s forced me to make a lot of complicated changes to make to the storyline – but because he’s actually right. And because having him surprise me and start writing his own actions means he’s growing more and more real too.