Every author is a deity in their own right. Just think about it.
Writer’s pontificate over the creation of people, events, timelines, histories, objects, and even whole new worlds! And in our own weird way, we actually manage to bring these into existence. Take it metaphorically or not, we often think of our creations as being real lives of their own. It’s awkward to admit it, but the antisocial freak that spends an hour a day slamming his keyboard is the closest thing that a human being can get to a god!
And sure, we might deny this to say that we just take pleasure in crafting stories and nothing else. But don’t tell me that you haven’t had one of those days.
Those days were you rub your hands together like some sinister Saturday morning cartoon villain while you gaze down at your creation. Don’t tell me that you haven’t had moments were you relished forcing your characters to do something just because you thought it was cool. Of course you’ll say that he had to do it for him to grow as a character, but I know that all writers can attest to using that as a pretense.
Love it or not, there’s some sick part of us that takes pleasure in controlling every aspect of our character’s lives. That’s why we feel like breaking our computer when that one scene you’d been planning out for days just doesn’t work the way you wanted it to and it’s the same reason why we always hate our first drafts. Its all because we want characters to do stuff and nothing in the plot that you’re making would rationally need them to do those things!
Authors are gods that love spectating the lives of their creations! And we’re not even the benevolent kind!
We enjoy seeing our main characters go through harsh situations. It gets to the point where we even look forward to see them lose that fight against the big bad or watch that love interest die before their very eyes. And we have no moral justification in doing so, we just do it to add drama! Deep down, just like we have an inner perfectionist, we have an inner control freak.
And that’s fine. In fact, it might even be justifiable. Think about it, we slave ourselves for days on end working on a story that we might even be bored of at this point! There are some people that spend years, years, just creating the world that a story takes place in. When you devote such a massive chunk of your energy to something, you want to make sure that everything works perfectly.
But as with all things, those wonderful people that live inside of our minds just love to turn it all up a notch. On many occasions, we just want to take up our characters and make sure that they do our exact bidding and we’ll be disappointed if they don’t. We treat our characters like little children that we wish to grow up in the exact way that we desire them to. In a sense, our characters are our children. And the problem comes through the fact that hand-holding a child is no way to raise it.
Children that are not given space to act in their own way and make their own mistakes
run the risk of acting in a fashion that’s not genuine. And unless your character’s motif is that they act the way that other’s want them to, this is not a good way to treat your babies. In many cases it can remove agency from the actions that your character takes during the course of his or her narrative. This is what I call Puppetmaster’s Syndrome.
Maybe if you’re the type of person that creates extensive outlines detailing how your characters will look, act, or feel on various situations you have this disease. Maybe your outlines are far too extensive to allow room for creative growth in your writing. Maybe you just have some sick fetish for controlling people. The point is that you shouldn’t keep going this way.
Some people like planning other people like pantsing, but in either case there’s going to be at least an element of spontaneity involved in creating their characters. This is because human being’s are one massive Christmas gift. You can never know what’s inside until you tear through the wrapping. You might have a vague idea of what your parents bought for you, but you’ll never know for sure until you open up the gift (Don’t apply this advice literally on human beings).
Writers, being the gods that we are, need to learn to give space for us to explore our own characters. The sad fact is that it doesn’t matter how much time you spent outlining Little Jimmy in your upcoming Young Adult Novel, you don’t know how he’s going to react when love interest #1 rejects him, and you won’t how he’ll react when lover #2 accepts him! Hell, you probably don’t even have the slightest idea about how your character wakes up in the morning, let alone how he acts around other people! Unless, of course, you’ve already started writing you character.
If there’s a forced moral lesson to be found in this post, it’s that writing should not be the equivalent of creating a character from nothing (despite the fact that that’s actually what you’re doing). We should think of characters as strangers that have already been living for a great deal of years before we got to know them. Writing characters is the act of engaging with other human beings that live, breath, fear, cry, laugh, smile, and do everything in between. It’s just that they only exist inside of your word processor.
So to all you manic OCD writer’s out there, give your babies a little space if you find that you’re growing frustrated in the way that they act. Don’t think about how you can make Johnny do something, think about what Johnny would do in the situation you place him in. And as always, this was the QuestingAuthor, and I leave you this nugget of advice. Keep writing, my friends.