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Getting Off of the Bus

February 13, 2012

One of the most fun things for me to experience, as a writer, is to have one of my characters act contrary to my intentions. In one short story, my female lead decided she didn’t want to “play nice” and turned into quite a character. She decided she didn’t like being dominated by her mother and despised the lack of control over her life. And, frankly, she apparently didn’t care for how I was writing her. So, she took charge, basically writing her own narrative and dialogue and even decided the end of my short story. And the story was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Non-writers won’t understand this. Writers will totally get it. And if you’re early on in your writing, you’ve sensed what I’m talking about but, likely, you’ve held tightly onto the reins when writing your characters. I mean, you’re the writer aren’t you? It’s not your story if you can’t mold it and shape it according to your wishes, right?

Creativity and, in this specific case, writing is a marriage between the conscious act and the subconscious. Consciously, I had the story in mind and was working in that direction. I had written character sketches, knew my protagonist and, as a result, could mold her into a rounded, believable, consistent character. In other words, in my case, I could make a totally boring character acting out a logical plot line that could be figured out many pages before the actual ending.

By relaxing and allowing my mind to wander, my imagination grabbed the hand of my subconscious and they frolicked and played “what if” until my character got excited and joined in. I can’t speak for everyone but my muse does not live in my conscious mind. She lives in my subconscious and has a lovely timeshare in my imagination. And when I allow my conscious mind to relax, to give up control, wonderful things happen.

This happened in writing my most recent scene for the novel.

One of my protagonists is an alcoholic who loses pretty much everything because of his drinking. Loses his wife and son, his job, his health and often wakes up having drank enough to have blacked out. He has no recollection of the night before. So, in this most recent scene set in the early-60’s, he has spent the night leaned up against this tavern in Nashville. It’s cold, and the morning sun is rising while cars and buses begin to take people to work. And that’s all I had. It certainly wasn’t going to be a pivotal scene but one I had to write. After getting the above down, I just sat and relaxed and waited. I meditated for a bit and allowed my mind to wander and be playful. And while I was doing that I began to keyboard and one of those city buses stopped outside of the tavern and a young, black man got off. Turns out that the prior spring he had graduated with honors from high school and had been given a small job at the tavern which over five or six months, he had turned into a much bigger job. He opens the tavern each morning and gets things ready for the day and basically manages the place. He unlocks the front door and opens up, then comes out to check on the protagonist.

And now I know there will be a friendship here atypical in the south in the early 1960’s when race is a dominant issue and getting ready to be on the front pages, along with the Vietnam War.

I had no plans for any of this. But when the door to the city bus opened up, I saw him getting off. I know what he was wearing and how he walks. I did not determine any of that. The door opened and there he was.

And so my outline for my story will be revised. Am I upset? Not in the least. In fact, I’m thrilled because this twist in the story is going to deepen it and bring more meaning. There is potential for much greater conflict. This is a great gift.

Janet Burroway states in “Writing Fiction” 6th Ed. that “…your fiction can be only as successful as the characters who move it and move within it.” I totally agree.

Are you stuck in your story? Maybe it’s because you’re trying to exercise too much control. Maybe your story has become more work than play. Maybe it’s time to relax, daydream, and let your characters do some of the heavy lifting. After all, it’s their story, isn’t it?

Tip of the Week – The next time you sit down to the page, allow your fingers to keyboard (or your pen to write) anything that comes into your mind. No one will ever see this unless you decide to show it. No matter how silly or crazy or embarrassing, put it down. You can polish or change your mind later. Right now, don’t write, transcribe whatever comes from your imagination, from your muse, your subconscious. When you finish, there may be nothing there with which you can work. But I promise you that if you continue to do this, you will not only end up with material, you’ll end up with the story you were called to tell.

Need help or a partner to get your creative juices going, or someone to help you with your writing or to review your drafts? Only three more days left to work with Terry Price at introductory specials at http://www.terryprice.net  Limited slots available and discount pricing ends at midnight central time on February 15th!

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. February 13, 2012 4:08 pm

    I love the way you’re sharing your gift Terry.

  2. February 13, 2012 4:12 pm

    Many kind thanks Lynn! I do appreciate the support and encouragement! It’s a grand journey so far and I know I’m just at the beginning! Hope you are well friend!

  3. February 13, 2012 5:23 pm

    Same thing happened to me, only it was a brand new character who walked on, totally surprising me and changing the whole dynamic of the novel. Made it much better, I might add. So excited that you are launched on your new life, Terr!

    • February 13, 2012 5:46 pm

      Many kind thanks Charlotte! Isn’t it the best? So great to hear about your experience as well! And many thanks for your wonderful words and support!

  4. Suzanne permalink
    February 13, 2012 6:20 pm

    I have had this happen only one time (so far!) and it IS so much fun. I love how you put it, Terry. And you are so right that non-writers will not understand that in the least. It’s like a secret handshake for us writers! 😉 Keep on going!!

    • February 13, 2012 9:00 pm

      A secret handshake! Yes, we need that! Many thanks for the kind encouragement. Stay to the page and you’ll have this experience again and again, I promise. It’s more a matter of accessibility than inspiration. You ARE a marvelous writer and s time goes along you will find more time to get to the page! Let me know how I can help and encourage you as a writer. Thanks again!

  5. February 13, 2012 6:27 pm

    I’m at a small stuck place because something needs to happen in a scene (having written “What happened with Melody made her forget all that.” ) Except I don’t know yet what happened with Melody! Thanks for the reminder to pull back, relax, & let the subconscious mind play a bit. It’s good not to bear down too hard.

    • February 13, 2012 9:03 pm

      Yes, let the subconscious play. It’s essential. But also, it’s good to write outside the story on which you are working Helen! Write a scene that describes what happened to Melody. Have loads of fun with it. Don’t restrict yourself and let your muse free. You may have to do this a couple of times but eventually, you will know what happened with Melody. That might make it into the story but it also might just inform your story. Yes, pull back, relax and not bear down too hard. Writing is a journey of discovery and fun. Take the critic hat off and don’t put it back on until the first draft is safely finished. And keep me posted on how I can help support you as a writer! Good luck!

      • February 13, 2012 9:15 pm

        Thanks for your suggestion to write a few scenes around Melody to see what happens…I am going to work on this tomorrow, and I’ll definitely try it. Not my usual approach, so that has to be a good thing.

        As to how you can support me, I am feeling a bit emboldened, so I’ll say… ((please visit my blog and leave a comment… 🙂 )) I write VERY SHORT posts about issues writers struggle with & how we can support each other. This week, envy/discontent. Many thanks, Terry.

    • February 13, 2012 9:29 pm

      I had a workshop leader who had a novel sitting in a drawer because it simply didn’t work. She talked with her mentor who read the manuscript and in it the main characters had just returned from going to the fair. The mentor asked what happened at the fair. The workshop leader said she didn’t know and was advised to write that scene. In the scene, she discovered the key to the novel. The actual trip to the fair scene didn’t make it into the novel but it informed her writing! So just “coloring outside the lines” allows for a sense of play and the best case scenario, you may just very well find out what Melody forgot. Realistically, you wouldn’t have written that “what happened with Melody made her forget all that…” unless it was important to the story. And if it’s important enough to put in, then it was significant enough to mention her forgetting. Play with it. Have fun and let me know! And I will visit the blog and will try to leave comments! Good luck Helen!

      • February 13, 2012 9:35 pm

        great comment, thanks! Yes, Melody is important to the story. It’s tempting to rush over secondary characters as if all they do is provide background for the protagonist, but I wd. ignore this little girl Melody (actually) at the peril of the main plot. Good reminder!! Good encouragement!

    • February 13, 2012 9:39 pm

      Remind me dear Helen of your blog so I can follow and comment! And yes, you can’t know who is really who is important and who isn’t, what is and what isn’t, until the story is fully told. Be open to possibilities. That’s part of the fun and thrill of writing. Stay to the page!

  6. February 14, 2012 1:27 am

    Your blog is helpful and quite informative. Thanks, Terry.

  7. February 14, 2012 10:18 pm

    Terry, I did the writing exercise you suggested, and it was very fruitful. Apparently I knew that fairly minor character better than I thought!

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