Trust Your Story

Tuesday’s Scribe, PJ Sharon here. Have you ever been writing along, minding your plot and meeting your daily word count, only to have your character take you “off track”? Do you catch yourself swearing at your characters and asking them, “Where the *&%*@# are you taking me?” Well, let me tell you…I’ve learned to let them have their way—at least on the first draft. Let me explain why.

After several manuscripts and three or four published novels, I’m finally beginning to trust my internal process. It seems that my unconscious mind knows a lot more about my characters than my conscious mind does and if I let the story evolve organically—rather than trying to control every word that lands on the page—some miraculous things happen. Characters take me to the most interesting places, and if I go along for the ride, there is usually some grand reason they needed to go there. A piece of the puzzle is found, a character flaw is brought to light, or an opportunity for character growth presents itself.

When I wrote ON THIN ICE a few years ago, Penny’s story unfolded and jumped onto the page with such abandon, it seemed as if it was writing itself. I hadn’t planned on all the twists and turns that her story would take, but as it developed and each thread wove itself into her character arc, I had no choice but to follow and see how everything came together in the end. Amazingly, her journey turned out to be profoundly complex and beautiful. Of course, my problem was then trying to sell a story that had multiple subplots and more drama than a season of Dallas.

I had several published authors, a few agents, and even a couple of editors tell me the same thing…get rid of at least two—preferably three—of the subplots. I was told “One teenager could not possibly deal with all of these issues and one or two is enough for any one book if you want to explore them in depth.” So I tried to unravel my plot to remove some of the “unnecessary” subplots. The problem was that I couldn’t. I struggled for several months trying to make the story “marketable” by choosing one story line and then bleeding all over the page for 250 pages. I couldn’t make it work. Deconstructing the story seemed like an impossible task without it losing that special something that made it unique and authentic. Worse, was that it felt like I wasn’t being true to my character. Penny needed to go through all the trials and tribulations she endured in order to become the person she was at the end of the story. It was her journey—not mine—and I didn’t feel right about robbing her of any of the experiences that made her who she was.

Ultimately, I shelved the story and began writing Heaven Is For Heroes, which turned out to be a much more “marketable” story, but by that time, I had decided that the kind of stories I wanted to write were likely not going to fit into a specific mold and that I wasn’t willing to have a traditional publisher “brand” me (ouch!) and put me in a “box” (NO…Not the box!). Enter—Indie publishing.

One of the many things that drew me to Indie pubbing was the freedom to be true to the creative process and write what is in my heart. I’m convinced that there are readers for every well-written book—even if/especially if—it fits outside the box. Why should readers be fed only stories that publishers have deemed saleable? As it turns out, many Indie authors are finding great success because they are taking risks and writing something different. The upsurge in the “New Adult” market proves that readers of all ages want something new–stories that bridge the gap between YA and adult romance–stories about what happens when young adults are faced with real life issues that push them into adulthood.

Although I’ve learned to rein in my characters a bit before they take me too far off course or lead me into some corner I can’t get out of, I’ve also learned to trust my story to take me where my characters need to go to become who they are meant to be—even if it takes me places I never dreamt I’d go. I’ve gotten better at plotting and planning rather than flying by the seat of my pants, but the real joy in writing for me is when my characters take over and lead me on an adventure greater than my mind could have imagined.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart if you’ve already read the book. I greatly appreciate all honest reviews. If you haven’t yet left a review and would like to do so, you can click on the Amazon link below and write a brief line or two about what you liked/or didn’t like about the book. This helps other readers find books that might appeal to them and helps us authors reach new readers. 

So what did you think? Was it too much drama for one book, or did it somehow all work together to make a worthwhile and unique story?on thin ice front cover jpg

If you haven’t read ON THIN ICE, you have one final opportunity to download it for FREE from Amazon this weekend. I won’t be renewing my KDP Select contract, so this is the last time it will be offered as a FREE download for the foreseeable future. It will be available Saturday through Monday, January 26-28th in honor of National Skating month and the US Figure Skating Championships taking place this week.

Bookmark this page and stop back this weekend to download your FREE Kindle copy from Amazon

Although Penny’s dream of Olympic Gold is derailed by life’s cruel twists of fate, she learns what all fierce competitors learn…follow your heart, and never give up.

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22 thoughts on “Trust Your Story”

  1. I was joking yesterday that I needed to implant a GPS chip into my characters, because I had no idea which direction they were going. LOL But it’s exactly as you said — that’s where the interesting stuff is, where lots of clues about the story and the characters are revealed. So while it can be maddening, it’s also what makes it fun. So I just keep typing, and taking notes, and seeing where the detours take me!

  2. PJ~

    I’m so glad you didn’t give up on Penny! On Thin Ice is waiting patiently on my tablet for me to read it. Hopefully that time will be very soon!

    Best of luck with your sales!

    1. I feel that way too, Sandy. I’m learning to trust those inner voices.

      I hope that’s a good thing, LOL. It still sounds crazy when I say it out loud, but in the writing community I’m considered “normal.”

  3. I usually start out with an outline of a general direction I want the story to go, but have learned to let the characters take me where they will (you can always edit later). I write epic fantasy with large casts of characters and multiple intertwining plot lines (like GRRM … only most of my characters have redeeming qualities and you GET someplace by the end of each book!). It doesn’t fit in a neat box … nor do I WANT it to fit in a neat box! Be true to your characters!

    1. Isn’t that what storytelling is all about? Allowing the mind to explore possibilities? I love reading stories that take me by surprise. Predictability is the mother of disappointment when it comes to books and movies for me. I enjoy Indie books for that very reason.

      I’m in the middle of Cat Kalen’s second book in the Wolf’s Pride series. It’s called Pride Unleashed, and it is a very cool story about a teen-aged girl who is a werewolf and she must rescue others who have been enslaved by a cruel master who uses them to assassinate threats to his domain. It’s so different from anything else I’ve read, it is captivating. Her first person present tense narrative style puts you right into the immediacy of the action. I love it when I can live within the mind of the character.

  4. I don’t really have a choice. My characters or subconcious or whatever are pretty strong and when I try to make them do something, they sit down on the floor, cross their legs and arms and refuse to budge. And more often than not, they’re right. I at least have to get it down their way first. I usually know how it begins and I think I know how it ends, but that could change. The middle is always a surprise to me. :-)

    1. That sounds like my process with my earlier books, Rhonda. I used to be a complete pantser, but even now with doing a fair amount of plotting, organic storytelling and character development are what make the writing a magical journey. Thanks for dropping in and commenting:-)

  5. We hear a lot about the “tsunami of crap” unleashed by the new wave of self-published books, but few people stop to think how profoundly the ability to self-publish will change the kinds of stories we will be offered–stories that cross genres, stories with elements that traditional publishers find too controversial, stories that would never have seen the light of day under the old publishing paradigm. When an author writes only to please herself and her audience, she can let her creative impulse run wild, go wherever it wants, do whatever it does. I’ve heard many authors who have been traditionally published remark how different it feels to write without the sense of an agent or editor looking over their shoulders, ready to “tut tut” when the author strays from the “tried and true,” also known as “the same old thing.”

    1. All true, Catherine! I think like any market, the publishing Industry needed an infusion of creative juice. Indies definitely bring that to the table, offering both readers and writers a chance to experience something new and different. A win, win as they say.

  6. When I write, i work from an outline. I need to know what’s going to happen in a scene. But as I build the scene the words just spill out and my characters sometimes surprise me with their activities. Thus, parting from or adding to the outline. It’s fascinating, but it’s sort of like writing poetry. I need to know the subject and the words just spill out with what I want to write/say. I think painting is similar. I need my subject and then when I paint the canvas, the idea grows. It doesn’t change the subject, but rather enhances. Great post Paula.

  7. How true: our unconscious knows best who our characters are. I’m not yet at the stage to pitch my first book – almost there – but some the revisions I’ve done could have been avoided if I’d let myself be guided by my characters, instead of trying to pilot the plane myself.

    It’s a bit like a waltz: I’m struggling to lead and so are my characters.

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