If you have writer friends, you’ve probably heard them talking about their works in progress, or their writers block, or how their characters don’t behave, or how the plot isn’t going where they’re expecting. And you end up asking questions because “you’re talking about your characters like they’re real people” or “you’re in charge of the story, what do you mean it’s not going where you want?” or “is this the same thing you were working on the last time we talked? You’re not done yet?”
So this post, my “muggle” friends, is for you. I’m doing to do my best to explain to you the answers to the questions I frequently hear asked to myself or other writers.
1. For a lot of us, our characters act like real people.
Remember when you were a kid, and you had imaginary friends? Now, a lot of us may have been able to control everything our imaginary friends said, thought, or did. And that’s natural; when we’re young, we hear a lot of “no,” and we want someone who will say “yes” all the time. We want someone to agree with us. And to be fair, our imaginary friends were probably very flat – no character depth whatsoever. So I want you to picture an imaginary friend, and then give them a real personality. Give them some flaws, some strengths, some strong opinions on things. And now dictate everything that has ever happened and will ever happen in their life. Do this over a long period of time. And see if they always agree with you.
The thing is, when you’re a writer, they don’t always agree with you. In fact, some characters rarely agree. You have a lot of characters, so they all have different personalities; some want to be written right here, right now, in this exact way. Some are shy, and won’t give you any content to work with. Some are rebellious, and when you write them the way you planned, everything just seems wrong.
To be fair, not all writers experience characters in this way. A good amount of writers see their characters as just words on a page – and that’s okay, too. (It irks me when these people scoff at those who see their characters as people – I’ve even seen articles where published authors smirk and say that writers that “hear” their characters “are insane, and ought to see someone about it.”)
2. Because of this, our plots often veer off track.
Every writer plots their story. “Plotters” do it all beforehand. “Pantsers” do it while they’re writing – “by the seat of their pants,” as it were. But no matter how much or how little you plot, your characters have the ability to completely throw it off track.
Let’s say Character A and Character B are meant to be love interests, and by the end of the story, they get together, live happily ever after, etc. But what happens when Character A unexpectedly has a crush on Character C? What if Character B just plain doesn’t like Character A? It’s like trying to set up your friends, and the first date goes horribly because one person doesn’t want to talk to the other, or the other person keeps making eyes at the wait staff.
In the first few attempts of my current WIP (Work In Progress), my two main characters were meant to fall in love. The first time, I scrapped the project 3 chapters in because something wasn’t working. The second time, I got a little further, but as soon as the prospective fated lovers met, they refused to actually fall in love with each other, so I scrapped that draft as well. My current (and hopefully, final) first draft has them as enemies that become friends, and absolutely nothing more. Let me tell you, I’ve gotten leagues farther in this draft than my past attempts.
Even little things can throw us off. A character decides they have a tattoo that the author didn’t know about. Well, what is the tattoo? Where is it? When did they get it? Does anyone else know about it? Does anyone notice it? Does the author have to go back and re-write a few scenes because the tattoo is exposed, and another character would normally react to it? Maybe it’s not plot altering in some stories. But in others, it might be.
3. Writers are picky about who gets to read anything before it’s done.
Also known as “no, you can’t read it.”
Think of a tailor. Would you ask them if you could try on a coat before it was done? Maybe if it was being custom made just for you. But what if it was just the pattern? Would you want to try that on?
Writing is a process. Most stories go through vigorous rounds of editing before the writer feels it is ready for the public eye. It doesn’t matter how close you are to the writer – their best friend, their parent, their child, their aunt. Please don’t ask if you can read whatever they’re working on. If they want an opinion on it, they’ll ask you if you’d like to read it. Free advice is much more useful when the person receiving it actually wants to hear it.
4. Not everyone writes at the same speed.
Some people are super speedy when they write. During National Novel Writing Month, there are people who write 50,000 words in a single day, which is absolutely amazing and astonishing and I have no idea how they do it. Other people might write that much in a year’s time. It all depends on circumstances; how much time they’re able to devote to writing, as well as how quickly they hurdle over writers block, and a slew of other things.
Despite this, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had writer friends tell me “everyone keeps asking why I’m not done yet,” “my parents asked me why I couldn’t just end it,” “I’m not even close to done and my friends keep badgering me about it,” etc. For some of us, it takes a long time. If you’re trying to motivate a writer into writing, the best thing you can say ask is “how is it coming along?” once in a while.
Still have general questions you ask most writers? Think I missed a question you get asked a lot? Let me know in the comments!