A guest post by Micky O’Brady
Congratulations to everybody who can read the above headline without singing those words out, SNAP-style. I do apologize though if you now have a song stuck inside yo’ head. (See what I did there? Lego Movie 2, anybody?)
Anyway. The reason for this slightly cruel opening was that having the power over your plot is the first rule of writing I was taught: It’s your story. You write it. You decide what’s happening. You control it. And boy, isn’t it fun? Sitting down to write your first story/book, you have an uber-detailed outline, know exactly what’s supposed to happen, and feel super excited about everything, because after all, this story is what you would want to read! The perfect story! It’s awesome!
Once it’s done you give it to your beta-reader(s), thrilled with your work, awaiting their feedback not quite anxiously, but with this little flutter inside your chest: You shared something of yourself with that story. An insight into your heart and soul, your emotions, your very self. You brought that story and those characters onto paper with love, and sending that manuscript out into the world is daunting, like sending your kid out on their own for the first time.
Your beta-reader(s) finally gets back to you a good ten days later, and their reactions is… meh.
They’re not mean or dismissive at all. It just didn’t click for them, the way it did for you.
That hurts. (Insert here: spending a whole day under your blankets in bed with chocolate, wine, or whatever you need to nurse your bleeding soul back to a functioning state.)
When you finally emerge from your healing phase, strengthened with new determination, it’s time to see what the next step holds: re-assessing (and even re-writing) part of your story, or possibly finding a new friend.
Let’s say sanity won and the friendship is safe for now: What happened? How could the story you poured your heart and soul into, not be perfect to them? You were on top of it, and even your writing prof couldn’t have complained about the narrative structure. So, putting your ego aside (that’s heavy lifting right there) you talk to your friend some more. They feel the characters’ actions weren’t organic. They felt off. It didn’t flow right.
The more you look over your manuscript though, the more you realize they had a point. Like an epiphany the second rule of writing strikes: It’s your story—until it isn’t anymore. Until it can’t be your story anymore. And that is a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s one that has to be taken (doctor’s orders).
Everybody writes differently. Some people are methodical and start with a rough outline they give more and more detail until the story stands, complete with a wonderful narrative structure. Others wing it to a degree, having an idea in their head and seeing where it takes them. I’m sure there must be millions of in-betweens, to each their own. But, no matter in which category we fall, we all have to live with unexpected developments in our stories. The art of writing lies in the ability to recognize what has happened—and to hold off the delete-key until this new evolution and its effect on the story have been taken into full consideration.
Here’s the second rule of writing again: It’s your story—until it isn’t anymore. Sometimes being a writer means listening to your characters. Where does the story take them? How did they develop? Does it still make sense for them to end up at point B, like outlined, or do they now need to end up at point C—and isn’t that maybe an even better place for them to be at?
And while yes, that means your planned path for them is not the one they’re going to walk, it’s a sign of a well-rounded character if they develop a certain autonomy. Much like real children they have to find their own way, even if it includes a couple of unexpected twists or turns. Those unexpected turns can be gold for the story, but no kidding, it can be scary for the writer to break away from their envisioned perfect plot and give this new idea or development a go.
Did I say scary? I meant terrifying, sorry, but hey, life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. Don’t push back too hard just because your plot demands it. Too much force applied to a character, pushing them in a direction they naturally wouldn’t go, and the story will break. Insert groaning-noises by the reader: Ugh. Whyyyy did they do that? Come oooooon!
Coming to think about it, I guess the third rule of writing would be, plot happens while you’re busy bringing your characters to life. It might not always be the exact plot you set out to tell, but believe me, it’s going to end up being one heck of a story this way, because, congratulations—guess what?
Your characters just started living.
About the Author
Micky O’Brady is a pediatrician-turned-writer living in beautiful, dry Southern California with her husband and two critters (one son, one dog). Micky loves to write YA thrillers with a romantic twist, mainly because she wishes her life had been such an awesome mix of action and cute guys when she was a teen. When she isn’t up at around 3 a.m. (with a cup of tea, Earl Grey, hot) drafting stories she can’t get out of her head, she can be found at a martial arts dojo, though maybe not at 3 a.m. She holds a 2nd degree black belt in Judo and a brown belt in Krav Maga, and is convinced every girl should know how to kick some butt. Learn more about Micky at her website.