Yes, You Do Have Time to Write

You say you’d like to be a writer, but you’re too busy; you just can’t find the time. I think I can help you find some time, but maybe that is not your real problem.

First, let’s look at your schedule. No, don’t spend a month or even a week writing down what you do; this is a mental exercise, so we’ll do it from memory. I see each of your days has 24 hours, and each hour has 60 minutes. That’s good, and those numbers aren’t any smaller than for all the greatest authors in history. In fact, those are the same numbers for everyone. So far, so good.

Find Time for WritingSure, you say, but those great authors don’t do anything but write. Writing is their day job. That may be true for many of the great authors, but few of them started great. Most had day jobs until their books sold well.

Leaving the greatest authors aside, few regular authors make all their money from writing. Most have day jobs, families, and all the normal demands of life. Still, they find time to write. How do they do that?

If we mentally compare their schedules to yours, we see they squeeze writing into any available niche. They set aside specific periods when they can—at night when the kids fall asleep, or in the morning before everyone else wakes up. They write during their commute on the train or subway. They use a voice recorder when driving alone in their car, (though never in dense traffic). They write at work during their lunch period. Some of them—gasp!—write in the bathroom!

Even when they’re not writing, they think about writing in idle moments, when they’re preparing a meal, taking a shower, mowing the lawn, etc. That way, when they do sit down to write, they’ve already mentally planned the next scene. That’s making the most of their available time.

Again, putting their schedule side-by-side with yours, we see they have fewer time-wasting activities than you do. They spend less time watching TV, less time bantering on social media, and less time playing computer games. When they are tempted to do any of these, they ask themselves if their time would be better spent writing, and they drop the time-waster and write. They feel a little guilty when they’re not writing.

I suggest you make it a priority to find writing time in any or all of these ways. Try writing to see if you like it. If you do, time will become less of a problem. Although budding or beginning writers complain about not having time, I’ve never heard a real writer—a person with passion for and love of writing—say they can’t find time to write. They lament not having enough time, but they always find some.

That’s what I meant when I said your problem might not be time at all. You may just not have fallen in love with writing yet. When and if you do, you’ll make time for it. You won’t really have much choice.

Other writers have posted great blogs on this topic, including Janice Hardy, Melissa Tydell, Dr. Victoria Lynn Schmidt, Linda Lafferty, and—if you steel yourself for some tough truths—John Scalzi.

You’d like to be a writer, but can’t find time. As I’ve explained, the problem is the word ‘like.’ Once you love writing, finding time won’t be your problem. When you follow the suggestions in this blog post, you’ll see some new writing time has been provided to you by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Shunning the Shaggy Dog Story

Someday you might get a comment back from your critique group or an editor declaring your submitted manuscript to be a “shaggy dog story.” What is that, and is it good or bad?

Wikipedia defines a shaggy dog story as a very long tale, with drawn-out explanations of irrelevant events, culminating in a pointless ending. If you’ve written what others consider a shaggy dog story, that’s not a good thing.

Shaggy Dog Story
No Shaggy Dog Stories

The shaggy dog works slightly better, if at all, in joke form. There’s a rhythm to long, story-type jokes, and listeners are willing to settle in and follow along. After the long build-up, when the punchline is a non-humorous anticlimax, that twist on the typical joke format is supposed to be the funny. It usually doesn’t work.

As an example, when I was a boy I enjoyed telling the Bavarian Cream Pie joke. There are variations of this joke on-line, here, here, and here. In my version, a man seeks the best Bavarian Cream Pie (BCP) in the world. He travels very far, meeting people who tell him where to get the best BCP. Finally, he’s told he must climb the tallest mountain in Bavaria, which he scales. He finds a small restaurant on top, goes in and orders Bavarian Cream Pie. The waiter says they’re all out. The man says, “That’s okay, make it an apple pie.”

I’ll pause here to let you finish laughing. Oh, you’re done already? As you can see, the shaggy dog story emulates a story in many respects (character, setting, style, theme), but there is a silly or stupid resolution of the plot. The story says nothing about the human condition, unless the message is that human existence is pointless. Even existentialist literature doesn’t go that far.

You would think it would be easy to avoid writing a shaggy dog story. Here are some ways you might well fall into the trap:

  • As you’re writing, you think of new and interesting events to include, events unrelated to your plot.
  • Somewhere along the way, you forget something about your main character—an internal conflict she or he must overcome, or even what the character’s goal is.
  • You can’t think of a suitable ending that effectively wraps up the story, so your tale just peters out.

Those pitfalls suggest methods to keep from veering toward shagginess:

  • Kill your darlings. Cut out events and even entire scenes that do not advance your plot.
  • As you write, maintain the idea that your story must have a point. There are conflicts, both external and internal, your protagonist must resolve.
  • There are two ways to avoid the pointless ending problem. First, you could write (or at least outline) the ending first, and then back up and write the story that aims toward that ending. Alternatively, if you don’t want to know the ending before you write the rest, check to see if the ending you finally write does, in fact, resolve the conflicts. If it doesn’t, rewrite it.

Remember, no shaggy dog stories. Shaggy dogs themselves, however, are fine. I certify that no dog, shaggy or otherwise, was harmed, nor was its character impugned, in the writing of this post by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Building Your Author Website

You’ve heard authors need websites, but you don’t know how to create one. Read on, and learn.

First, it’s not true that you need a website. You do need an online presence that shows you to be an author. That can consist of accounts on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc. However, I’d guess most authors have their own website.

Building author websiteA website does at least the following things for you:

  • Tells readers who you are and what you’ve written
  • Tells readers where they can get your books
  • Tells potential publishers and editors that you’re a serious professional
  • Provides interesting, even exciting, content linking what you’re selling to what readers want

I’ll presume you know, or can easily find out, the mechanics of setting up a generic website. There are a variety of hosting services out there and they have video tutorials and instructional blog posts on how to do that. I’m focusing on making an author website, as distinguished from other types of sites.

First, think about grabbing interest. Think like a newspaper cartoonist. One such cartoonist wrote that people view a political cartoon for about three to five seconds. That’s it. Readers buy the newspaper for the articles, so they’re prepared to read a few of them, if the headlines attract. But the cartoonist must seize attention in just a few seconds.

The same goes for your website. Your potential readers are surfing the web for free, so they only linger on a site if it grabs them right away. You only get a moment to show them enough about you for them to stay awhile and explore your site.

That means you don’t want long blocks of text. Also, break up your text with appealing, welcoming images. The images and text you choose on your home page may be giving the first impression visitors have of you. At a glance, they should get a good idea of the type of books you write, and some notion of the type of person you are.

Set up your site to appeal to your potential readers. Use words and images selected to attract them. Your site then becomes a suddenly impactful ‘story’ of you and your books.

Unless you have a good reason not to, you should include a picture of yourself. Although it shouldn’t matter, readers like to see what their authors look like. (Yes, I know, I don’t have my own pic on my website, except for a couple of blog entries here and here.)

Assuming the visitors to your site now have their curiosity piqued, your website should also tell them where they can buy your books and where you may be appearing so they can meet you.

A blog can draw visitors to your site, especially once you have a number of blog posts under your belt. Internet searches for your blog post topics can guide surfers to your site.

If you decide to blog, know this—it will eat into your fiction writing time. Before you start blogging, I recommend you write down twenty topics or so. Not the whole post, just the topic. Commit to posting on a regular periodicity and stick to it. It can be daily, weekly, every other week, etc., but you should adhere to the schedule. As new ideas for future blog post topics occur to you, add them to the bottom of your topic list.

For other ideas about building your author website, check out the websites of your favorite authors, and others. Also look at other blog posts on the topic, such as this one, by Thomas Umstattd.

Once you launch your website, be sure to tell the world that you learned how to do it from—

Poseidon’s Scribe

The Hero’s Journey, Oversimplified

The Hero’s Journey is one of the most basic plot types in literature. In 2013, author John Green discussed the hero’s journey in his commencement address at Butler University. In my view, he presented an incomplete view.

Simplified Version of Campbell's Hero Journey
Simplified Version of Campbell’s Hero Journey

In 1949, Joseph Campbell introduced his analysis of the hero’s journey in his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Campbell’s analysis was a complex one, with no less than seventeen stages of the journey.

At the Butler commencement, Mr. Green said that most people consider the hero’s journey to be from a state of weakness to a state of strength. He contended the opposite was true, that heroes begin with strength and end with weakness.

“The real hero’s journey is the journey from strength to weakness…Many of you, most of you, are about to make that journey. You will go from being the best-informed, most engaged students at one of the finest universities around to being the person who brings coffee to people, or a Steak n Shake waiter…That is the true hero’s errand–strength to weakness. And because you went to college, you will be more alive to the experience, better able to contextualize it and maybe even find the joy and wonder hidden amid the dehumanizing drudgery.”

I get what Mr. Green was trying to do in the context of a college commencement. He was preparing the graduates for an upcoming period of weakness. Further, he was telling them they would be better people for having thus suffered. Granted, that’s a valuable teaching point.

Let’s take a moment to define what we mean by “strength” and “weakness.” The most obvious connotation is physical. But we can also speak of strength and weakness in the following areas: mental, spiritual, emotional, overall character, and others.

In most hero’s journey tales, the hero will pass from strength to weakness in at least one of those planes. He or she will reach a place of utter weakness and vulnerability of some kind (or multiple kinds) at some point in the story. Either the antagonist or the environment will bring the hero down.

One Possible Hero's Journey Path
One Possible Hero’s Journey Path

But the story never ends there, does it? It’s not a very heroic tale if the bad guy wins. The hero must pick himself up from the bloody boxing ring mat, or she must summon all her courage from somewhere in misery’s abyss, to rise above the situation. The hero must achieve, through personal toil, a kind of strength at the end.

That final strength can include nuance, of course. The defeat of the antagonist can come with a new understanding of the world’s complexities—the bad guy might have had some valid point among his faults, a point deserving exploration. Or perhaps the hero, having sailed his ship through the perfect storm, might come to a realization that he would never do such a thing again.

Such nuance doesn’t constitute a return to weakness, however. On balance, the hero must end in a position of strength.

With respect to the author of The Fault in Our Stars, Mr. Green should not have stopped at weakness in his address. What a gloomy view of life he gave those graduates! He should have bent the curve upward at the end, should have said heroes move from initial strength to weakness, and on to final strength. He should have told them what happens after the “dehumanizing drudgery.”

Sorry, Mr. Green, but hero’s journey tales have to end with strength. That’s the opinion of—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Note: You’ve gone and done it now. You’ve waited until the very last day of the Smashwords ½ price sale. Tomorrow my books return to full price. Today is your day to be a hero. Pick yourself up from the depths ofswlogo procrastination and, with your last ounce of strength, surf here, click on a book or two, and use the code they give you at checkout to get the discount.

In the Mood, Revisited

Some time ago, I posted about how to get yourself in the mood to write. Today I’ll come at it from a different slant and suggest you should write even when you’re not in the right mood.

We’ve all been there. There’s a task (say, writing) you should do, and it’s now the allotted time for it. However, you’re not in the mood. Something else has happened to put your mind in the wrong frame.

Typically, it’s some strong, negative emotion like anger or sadness. Someone or something has upset you and left you too distraught to do any writing. You can’t bear the thought of writing, can’t imagine sitting down at a keyboard, not at a time like this.

Writing in the MoodYour mind is filled with raw feelings, and you have no room for anything else. You can’t be creative, not now. You can’t get in the mind of a character right now, can’t be bothered with rules of English, or with choosing the right words. Besides, your novel is a comedy, and you’re feeling the opposite of funny.

I suggest that this is a fine time to sit down and write. Why?

  1. It’s important to preserve the discipline, the habit, of writing. As we know, bad habits are easy to form, and good habits are easy to drop. If you skip a day of writing based on your bad mood today, it’s that much easier to make an excuse for not writing tomorrow.
  1. You might just write better. That raw emotion you’re feeling will find its way into your prose, and might well give it power, lifting its quality above your previous best.
  1. Writing might give you fresh perspective on the cause of your mood. Writing may calm you down. Perhaps the massive problems your characters face will make yours seem less by comparison. As you push your heroic, fictional character to save the world while subduing monstrous evil, the hero you create might just create a hero inside you, a real person who can resolve the problem of the day.

Of course, there will be days when life legitimately prevents you from writing. Sometimes that event that soured your mood requires you to take action. You have to act, to deal with the problem. Writing is important, you know, but it’s a lower priority today.

I get that. But note a key difference. If you must act, do so. If you have nothing to do but sit and stew, then write instead. In other words, legitimate high-priority tasks can be an excuse for not writing, but a bad mood shouldn’t be.

Thanks to Jocelyn K. Glei, since her post with her interview of Seth Grogan about his contribution to the book Manage Your Day-to-Day inspired my own post.

How about that? I’ve just increased your writing time. Now you can write even when you’re in a rotten mood, as does—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Note: there’s a week left in the amazing Smashwords 1/2 price sale, where you can get 14 of my books for half price. Remember, they’re listed there at the full price, but when you click on any one of them, Smashwords gives you a code to use at checkout to get the discount.

Twain’s Attack on Cooper

In 1895, Mark Twain published “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses,” a lengthy criticism of James Fenimore Cooper’s writing, especially his novels The Pathfinder and The Deerslayer. Since it’s one of the more famous examples of literary criticism, let’s explore it, as well as the overall reasons for such criticism.

Twain vs CooperIn Twain’s acerbic style, he starts by accusing three Cooper-praising reviewers of never having read the books. He then lays into Cooper, saying, “…in the restricted space of two-thirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offenses against literary art out of a possible 115. It breaks the record.” Twain asserts there are 19 or 22 rules “governing literary art in domain of romantic fiction” and says Cooper violated 18 of them. He lists those 18 rules.

Twain scorns Cooper for over-using certain favorite “cunning devices, tricks, artifices.” He also slams Cooper for some improbable events involving shore water undertows, cannon ball rolling, and footprint erasure by erosion.

At length, Twain ridicules Cooper for creating a forest stream of varying breadth, for conjuring a boat so big as to be unlikely to navigate the stream, and for having five Indians lay in wait for this giant craft and yet miss it when attempting to jump aboard. For several paragraphs, Twain then takes Cooper to task for scenes involving implausible target-shooting with rifles, and eyesight beyond human capability.

In Twain’s judgement, Cooper’s dialogue is inconsistent, and his word choices “dull” and “approximate.”

That’s the summary version of the “Literary Offenses.” Twain’s writing style is humorous and satirical, making the essay fun to read and accounting for its lasting popularity.

Once published, Twain’s essay itself became subject to criticism, and one fine example of this is “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Defenses,” by Lance Schachterle and Kent Ljungquist of Worcester Polytechnic Institute.  Schachterle and Ljungquist take Twain to task for attempting literary criticism while accomplishing little more than sniping at the physics of certain scenes. Twain, they say, gets some of his physics wrong, and in the case of the river craft and the awaiting Indians, fills in his own details to prove that Cooper’s scene wouldn’t work.

Laying aside the particulars of the criticisms, why would Twain write such an essay at all? Cooper couldn’t respond, having been dead some forty-four years. (In fairness, Twain didn’t reserve his barbs only for deceased authors. He criticized his contemporaries George Eliot and Robert Louis Stevenson as well.) That gap in time is illustrative, since Cooper wrote in the Romantic style, a style no longer in vogue in Twain’s time.

Was Twain trying to tarnish Cooper’s reputation? That was unlikely to suffer, Cooper having become a best-selling author whose works remained popular well into Twain’s era, and even now.

I suspect Twain, like many writers, chafed at the inexplicable popularity of other authors who didn’t write the way he did. In a sense, he’s criticizing the book-buying public. He’s saying, “Americans, here are the rules for literature, and I adhere to them in my stories. Why do you keep buying books by Cooper, who violates them at every turn?”

Still, who can explain why readers line up to buy certain books and ignore others? What makes a book popular? Strict adherence to Twain’s self-imposed rules doesn’t seem to be the answer; otherwise, we’d be reading little else but Twain.

Similarly, Jules Verne criticized H. G. Wells’ book The First Men in the Moon for using a fictional anti-gravity metal. Wells did not obey rules Verne imposed on himself, and Verne couldn’t understand why readers would accept that.

Authors are free to comment on other authors, of course, but should be wary of applying their own criteria of merit on others, or of assuming readers use those same criteria in their book-purchasing decisions.

I must admit, I’m glad Mark Twain never had the chance to criticize any books by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

One more thing: remember Smashwords is selling many of my books at ½ price through the end of this month. These deals don’t come along often. Buy two or more!

What Do Editors Want, Anyway?

Most beginning writers, especially those who’ve suffered a few rejections, wonder about the answer to this post’s subject question. What do editors want?What Editors Want

I can’t pretend to speak for all editors. I’ve not reached the point where all my stories get accepted. I’ve never worked as an editor myself.

However, a few years ago, one editor* gave me his answer to that question, and it’s a good one. He wrote, “I’m a stickler for a story having not only a clear protagonist, antagonist, and plot, but a resolution of the plot (in which the protagonist participates) and a change in the protagonist on some level. I like stories that, as Twain once said, ‘accomplish something and arrive somewhere.’ Most accomplish nothing and arrive nowhere. It’s dreadful to read through an otherwise good story and have it end without ending.”

Let’s accept that as a working proposition and break it down.

  1. Clear protagonist. The reader shouldn’t have to wonder who the main character is. I believe the editor chose the word ‘protagonist’ rather than ‘hero’ since the main character need not be particularly heroic.
  2. Clear antagonist. Stories must have conflict. There must be some entity against whom the protagonist struggles. The antagonist need not be a person; it could be nature or the environment. Once again, once finished with the story, any reader should be able to name the antagonist.
  3. Clear plot. By this, I believe the editor was saying the story must portray events in a logical order. The events must relate to the conflict and follow each other with a clear cause-and-effect relationship. Some events will escalate tension and others will relieve it. Overall, there needs to be a gradual buildup of tension until the resolution.
  4. Plot resolution in which the protagonist participates. The resolution is that part of the plot where the conflict is resolved (the bad guy is defeated, the two people fall in love, the protagonist overcomes a character flaw, etc.). It’s important that the protagonist take action to bring about this resolution and not be some bystanding witness to the action. Note: the word ‘resolved’ does not imply happily or favorably. Resolution of the conflict could be accomplished by the protagonist’s death or other defeat.
  5. Protagonist changes on some level. If your protagonist is the same person at the end of the story as she was at the beginning, the reader will wonder what the point of the story was. The clause ‘on some level’ refers to the fact that conflicts are generally classed as external (bad-guy antagonist or unforgiving environment) or internal (character flaw, irrational fear, grief, unreasonable guilt, psychological problem, etc.). Many stories impose both internal and external conflicts on the protagonist. For internal conflicts, the change should be an overcoming of the condition, or at least hope of such problem solving. For external conflicts, the protagonist’s change is generally a maturation of some kind.
  6. Story accomplishes something. This is part of the Twain quote, and is a restating of points 4 and 5. The plot and conflicts must resolve and the protagonist must change. A great way for a story to accomplish something is if it says something useful about the human condition.
  7. Story arrives somewhere. By this, I take Twain to mean that the story must end at an appropriate point, not before the conflict resolution, and not too long afterward.

Save your editor some time, and save yourself another bout of rejection-grief. Check if your story meets all of the above criteria before submitting it. If it doesn’t, it’s not ready.

Of course, even if your story does meet these criteria, that’s no guarantee of acceptance. Who can pretend to know what all editors want? Certainly not—

Poseidon’s Scribe

* Note: the editor who wrote that is David M. Fitzpatrick, of Epic Saga Publishing. He accepted one of my stories for an upcoming Epic Saga anthology. David has gone into more detail about what he looks for in submissions; see this wonderful blog post here, which includes some great writing exercises, too.

½ Price Sale on Many of My Books!

You’re looking for some great beach reads for your Kindle this summer. You keep hearing about that author—what’s his name?—who everyone is talking about. That’s right, it’s Steven R. Southard, the one who calls himself Poseidon’s Scribe.

You’ve been meaning to read my books, but you keep thinking they’re so darned expensive. Well, you’re in luck. Your wait is over.

For the month of July only, Smashwords is offering many of my books (the ones in the What Man Hath Wrought series) for ½ price! That’s right, get two for the price of one.

Here’s how to take advantage of these great prices. When you click on any book at my Smashwords site, a message will appear telling you to use a specific code at checkout to get the discount.

Here’s the list of stories and their prices during July:

AftertheMartians72dAfter the Martians
$2.00

 

RippersRing5Ripper’s Ring
$2.00

 

TimesDeformedHand3fTime’s Deformèd Hand
$2.00

 

TheCometeers3fThe Cometeers
$2.00

 

ToBeFirstWheels4To Be First and Wheels of Heaven
$2.00

 

RallyingCry3fRallying Cry and Last Vessel of Atlantis
$2.00

 

ATaleMoreTrue3fA Tale More True
$2.00

 

TheSixHundredDollarMan72dpi-1The Six Hundred Dollar Man
$1.50

 

ASteampunkCarol3fA Steampunk Carol
$1.50

 

AgainstAllGods4Against All Gods
$2.00

 

LeonardosLion4Leonardo’s Lion
$2.00

 

AlexandersOdyssey3fAlexander’s Odyssey
$2.00

 

WithinVictorianMists4Within Victorian Mists
$1.50

 

WindSphereShip4The Wind-Sphere Ship
$1.50

 

Better take advantage of this limited time offer before Smashwords wakes up and realizes what they’ve done. Heck, you could buy all 14 books for a cool $26. How’s that for value?

Remember, go to Smashwords and grab these deals while they last. Tell ‘em you were sent by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

My Story Inspires More Antikythera Mechanism Research

These scientists and anthropologists must have read my story. Is there any other explanation?

NAMA_Machine_d'Anticythère_1
Antikythera Mechanism (from Wikipedia)

ToBeFirstWheels3fLet’s review the timeline. My story “Wheels of Heaven” was published two years ago, in June 2014. “Wheels” tells the story of the Antikythera Mechanism, that ancient Greek geared machine found in the seabed wreck of a Roman ship. Then in September of that year scientists mounted a diving expedition to see if they could find more pieces of the device. I blogged about that expedition.

Although the expedition did not uncover any additional gears, there’s been a new development, reported last week here, here, and here. With Computational Tomography (CT) imaging and Polynomial Texture Mapping, or PTM, they’ve discovered the Antikythera machine came with written instructions, a guide to its operation, an owner’s manual etched on its surfaces.

The newly translated 3500 characters of text refer to parts of the mechanism that weren’t recovered, such as a display of spheres representing the Sun and known planets. The text suggests the device wasn’t an astronomical research tool, nor an astrological prediction tool. Rather it was a teaching aid, an astronomy textbook of sorts.

Well, that would have been useful to know when I was writing “Wheels of Heaven.” In my tale, the machine has no display spheres, and no engraved text to read. The character in my story, Drusus Praesentius Viator, is an astrologer, and does use the machine to make horoscopic predictions. I based my story on the best understanding of the Antikythera Mechanism at the time.

Ah, well, science marches on, I suppose. Science Fiction writers are used to new discoveries rendering their stories obsolete. That phenomenon doesn’t happen as often to writers of alternate history, but it’s not unknown.

Of course, “Wheels of Heaven” is not obsolete. Scientists don’t know for sure that the ancients didn’t use the machine for astrological predictions. It would be a simple matter for me to update my story to include the text and display spheres.

AntikytheraMechanismSchematic-Freeth12
Gear Arrangement in the Antikythera Mechanism (from Wikipedia)

Further, I’m not accusing scientists of deliberately trying to undermine my story. They may well be motivated to find the truth about this mysterious artifact. After all, no one credited the Ancient Greeks with having any understanding of gears before finding this machine containing at least thirty meshing gears. Not just simple gears, either, but some are complex epicyclic gears.

Still, I’d like to think some of the anthropologists might have read, and been inspired by, “Wheels of Heaven.” Could my story have sparked some of the research? Who knows?

Maybe you’re a scientist who’s curious about ancient technology. Or maybe you just enjoy reading good stories. Either way, perhaps you, too, could be inspired by reading the works of—

Poseidon’s Scribe

When Characters Wrest Control

Sometimes, while playing God, writers get surprised. Occasionally, while we’re creating our little worlds and our little people to inhabit them, one of those people doesn’t stay in the intended space.

Wresting ControlToday I’ll consider the topic of characters getting too big for their britches, and assuming a bigger (or different) role than the one planned for them. When this happens in your writing, should you take it as a good thing or a bad thing?

This has happened to me a few times. In my story “After the Martians,” the character Frank Robinson is a war AftertheMartians72dphotographer. He’s meant to be a secondary character, pursuing a parallel plot line that intersects the protagonist’s life near the end in a meaningful way. However, Frank became a little more compelling than intended and darn near overshadowed the protagonist. I kept most of his exploits in, so the reader cares what happens to him and follows his plot line with interest.

RippersRing72dpiIn “Ripper’s Ring,” Diogenes is a Bassett hound owned by a Scotland Yard detective. You know how some movie actors dread performing with animals because the animal might steal the scene? That nearly happened with droopy old Diogenes, whose seeming lack of interest in following a scent made him an endearing comic character in an otherwise dark and philosophical story. I kept him that way.

ATaleMoreTrue72dpiThere’s a French servant named Fidèle in my story “A Tale More True” who almost ended up having a more compelling personality than that of his master, the protagonist. Once again, he was a secondary character meant to provide comic relief and to showcase the protagonist. However, he tended to get the best lines, and to be the one suggesting the right course of action. I kept him as I’d written him, since the story is a voyage of learning and discovery for his master, and Fidèle is a necessary part of that.

WithinVictorianMists9Another servant, this time a plump Irish one named Daegan MacSwyny, nearly took over my story “Within Victorian Mists.” I’d meant this secondary character to be funny and unintelligent, but he ended up being secretly wise in almost magical ways. As with Fidèle, he gently prodded his master, the protagonist, toward the right answer at every step, though it’s never clear whether that’s by intention or accident. MacSwyny and all the Victorian Mists characters appeared again in “A Steampunk Carol” but there the servant kept to his secondary status.

In each case, a secondary character threatened to take over the story by force of personality and by being more endearing than the protagonist. That’s just the way my muse rolls.

But not only mine. Other writers have blogged about this phenomenon. Mae Clair lets it happen, for the most part, and later writes separate stories featuring such characters.

Melanie Spiller had written such a good scene about the death of a character whom she hadn’t meant to kill off, that she kept the scene in. She’d once been told a character wresting control of the story is a sign you’ve created a believable character.

When a character takes on a bigger role, you have choices. You can:

  1. Let that character go in this new direction, at least to some extent.
  2. Rewrite the story to keep the character as intended.
  3. Delete the character.

So far, I’ve always chosen option 1. Other writers choose either 1 or 2. It would be gut wrenching to opt for 3, so I suspect that’s rarely done.

When you play God by writing fiction, do you have characters wresting control every now and then? If so, what do you do? Or do you just like that word ‘wrest?’ Rise above your role as a blog post reader, and leave a comment for—

Poseidon’s Scribe