This is totally off-topic for the site, but every so often we all need to vent our frustrations in a safe and non-judgmental forum. Since this is my site I figure it’s my option. I don’t know how many of you are writers, but I would like to clear up a few misconceptions in regards to the practice. First, most people seem to believe that the author is in complete control of the story from start to finish. In my experience, I have found this assumption blatantly false. Second, most people also assume that the author knows exactly how the story’s going to end. False. Most of the time the author is as surprised as anyone of his or her readers as to how the story is going to turn out. Third, readers assume that the author writes serial novels to generate interest from the reading public and consequently, sell more books. Such an innocent, misguided conclusion, most of the time.
Let me let you in on a few well-kept secrets about authors…(at least the way it works for me). I usually have little to no control over the direction the story takes. I may start out with an idea in my head of a nice little story that will occupy me for a few months and satisfy my creative side. I have a general plan in my head of a beginning, middle, and end. It’s all nice and tidy in the beginning. At this point, the staging, planning, pre-writing stage, I have complete control. The characters are fictitious musings in my head. They behave exactly as I imagine they will. Everything goes along swimmingly in the beginning. This is the fun part.
Then the actual writing begins and for a while, at least until the characters I’m bringing to life are firmly convinced they’ve got me hooked, everything proceeds just as I imagined it would…
Then all hell breaks loose. The characters start going off on their own. They start grandstanding, complaining about their lines, the size of their part in the story. They want bigger roles. They think they’re entitled to a larger cut of the action. They want in on the best scenes. In short, each and every one of them wants to be the star. No one wants to play a supporting role. Trying to keep them all corralled and heading in the direction of the story I set out to write is exhausting. Writing isn’t particular fun at this stage, but by now I’m committed. A battle of wills has commenced and I’m determined not to let them get the better of me.
But no matter how hard I try to ensure everyone places by the rules, inevitably one of them sneaks one by me. All of a sudden there’s a new twist in the story. I recognize it and think to myself, ‘okay, this isn’t too bad, I can work with this’. As soon as I capitulate to one little change, the character responsible starts strutting around the setting like he’s God’s gift to the literary world, then the others get their noses out of joint. They gang up on me, complaining about their own parts, how they wanted to be the hero, or the villain, or whatever. At this point, I’ve completely lost control. Now comes the hard part; trying to reel everyone back in line and convince them to play nice. At this point all I’m longing for is the still far-away dream of typing those two magic little words at the bottom of the final page…The End….
But I soldier on, because at this point I’m as caught up in the story as anyone else. I’m curious about how it’s all going to turn out. They’ve got me hooked. My role has become less of an all-seeing, all-knowing creator and more of a facilitator for the characters to work out their issues amongst themselves. I keep going. Page after page, word after word, avidly following along, delighted with the story’s twists and turns, crushed when one of my favorite characters is devastated by the course of events and cheering enthusiastically from the sidelines when success comes their way.
Finally I begin to see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. ‘Oh, so that’s where we’re going with this. I didn’t see that coming.’ But I’m happy, excited. The end is in sight. I brace myself for one final push. I can almost taste those two magic words on the tip of my tongue. Maybe, I even get to experience the satisfaction of typing them at the bottom of that final page. This is it. This is the realization of my vision. The story’s finished. I even like it. My creation, my baby and even if technically that might not be completely true, given the input from the characters themselves, I’m okay with the little deception. Someone’s name has to appear on the cover. Someone real. Someone with a verifiable identity. By default, that just happens to be me.
I begin planning a weekend away somewhere. Entire hours and days away from my computer…away from the place that served as the setting for the story. The one I’m already tucking away into some remote corner of my mind.
Then, and this is the really irritating part, one of the characters decides he’d like a final word…just a little wrap up. I resist the idea, not completely trusting his seemingly innocent request, but reluctantly I accede to his request. He’s been a decent character for the most part. He’s actually been helpful at times, keeping the others in line. He wasn’t the star of the show, but he was a significant supporting character. I figure he deserves his moment in the sun. Like the sap I am, I give in. I turn the page and title it, ‘Epilogue’, and tell myself it’s just a paragraph or two to make him feel better. After a hundred thousand words or so, what’s another two fifty, even five hundred? It’s nothing. Just my little expression of gratitude for someone who helped bring my vision to life, who stayed with me through the ups and downs and never stepped out of line. It’s his moment. Let him have it.
I should know by now this has disaster written all over it. But I let myself get sucked in. It happens every time and suddenly my sweet, little story grows up and becomes a complicated, rebellious, quarrelsome teenager. It just happened to me again the other day. I’m working on a book I never intended to write. If you’ve been following along on the site, you’re not particularly surprised by this revelation. I have finally reached that part where I can see the end of the book. I’m happy, relieved, excited. I usually like to write down the ending at this point just so I don’t lose sight of it as we wind our way towards it. This story is complete in and of itself. As I’m writing the ending, I’m relieved there will be no sequel. When the story’s finished, it’s finished. The end. Done. Back to fantasy land with all of you. Thanks for the memories. It was a fun ride. Then just as I finish happily typing, ‘the end’, (even though the story’s not finished yet and there’s still a ways to go between where things stand now and the part we’re getting to, it’s fun to mark the spot), one of the characters, the old priest, taps me on the shoulder and would like a word with me. Very politely, you understand. He is a priest, after all. He just has a few final words. Would I mind giving him a few moments of my valuable time?
It seems fitting. He’s been a good character. He’s played a significant, but small role in the story and he is a priest and an old one at that. He can’t possibly be angling for another book. He barely lived long enough to see the end of this one. A final blessing on the story…a few words of wisdom…
How can I say no?
He tricked me!!! On his deathbed no less, he pulls out an ancient artifact of the church. No, that’s not technically true because the artifact in question precedes the church’s existence. We’re talking Old Testament here…very old. What I know about the Old Testament would not fill a book. It would barely cover a few chapters. I am not a serious student of the Bible. I’m familiar with all the relevant parts, I’ve heard the most familiar stories, but those obscure, heavy versus and chapters escape me. How could he do this to me? He’s a priest, for God’s sake.
I haven’t decided yet what I’m going to do about him and his secret little key. The Guardian of the Key. I think it’s really cheeky of him to offer a title for a book he isn’t even going to live long enough to make it beyond the first chapter. I might just decide to kill him off before the end of this book thereby thwarting his sneaky little epilogue ploy.
I haven’t decided. I’m reserving my options. I’m really pissed at him at the moment…