December 7th, 2006

A Mind of His Own

Maren startled me yesterday. It was exciting, because he’s never done that before.
 
I’ve read plenty of author interviews that extol the virtues of allowing one’s characters free rein, letting them direct the plot, seeing where their sudden independent-mindedness takes the story. But that’s just never happened to me. I always feel like I’m urging my people along, the way I used to my brother when he was very little—slapping my thigh and sing-songing, “Snip snap!” Unfortunately, it worked better on my brother than it does on my characters, who apparently require a little more direction.
 
So now I’m maybe halfway through rewriting my juvenile fantasy novel, and battling every inch of the way, pushing Maren (the main character, a 15-year-old boy) to get into more trouble, to take on a personality (which I feel he may rather have been lacking before).
 
So far so good. He is one angry kid. With a mean right hook. (He’s not bad with the left, either.) And there’s a girl in the story—well, she was there before, but she might as well have been a plant for all the notice he took of her. That’s changed, and that’s all for the good.
 
And I’m trying to rein in my fondness for planning. I continue to outline and brainstorm plot ideas, but not for the whole project—just for one section at a time. Which means the conclusion of the novel is a little up in the air, and I’m a little freaked out about it. (I like loose ends only insofar as I am able to tie them into tidy bows.) But sometimes being freaked out is a good thing—or so I’m trying to convince myself.
 
So yesterday Maren and I whipped through another new chapter—not 100 percent new, but a reworking of plot points that existed in previous incarnations of the manuscript. I added some more interactions with the girl, and an emotional breakdown for Maren’s sister (my favorite character. She’s such a fruitcake)—a whole bunch of tension leading up to a revelation on which the rest of the novel will turn. And that’s when it happened.
 
All of a sudden, Maren decided on a plan of action. He had a reaction to the revelation that we’d never even discussed before. He’s going off on some path that I hadn’t even spotted in the undergrowth.
 
He’s growing up!
 
Now I just have to try to catch up as he breaks the trail, and not lose my breath. Just like real life, I think, I have to take a risk and see what happens. (I can’t figure out why taking this risk on paper feels riskier than taking a risk in real life. Maybe that’s why the sister is my favorite character—like attracts like, fruitcake understands fruitcake… [I hope you appreciate that holiday twist I threw in].)  
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