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  • C.A. Lightfoot

Letting Your Characters Set the Tone

First of all, I haven't been able to update due to some internet issues. This has been awesome for my writing, but disastrous for blogging. I have a hard time blogging from my phone. Too many typos!


Today, I want to take a moment to reflect on something that, outside of the literary world, is likely to get people to look at you funny.


You know that feeling when the characters take on a mind of their own? When they refuse to follow the timeline or outline you have beside the keyboard. They want you to follow them to scenes unknown.


I don't know about every writer, but I have a hard time letting go long enough to let these guys run their own lives. Sure, I share memes about just writing up the incident report as they run around doing insane things. The reality is, though, that most of that insanity was brought on by me.


I'm not a strict plotter. I tried that, I tried steering everything the way I thought it ought to go. I know this works well for some people, but for me all I got was a whole lot of annoyance and a really big dip in writing output.


This said, I'm not a pantser either. I tend to write out a simple skeleton for the major plot, an outline for the next 4-5 chapters, and then I let them loose.


Most of the time.


This week, I had a little bit of a change in my current WIP: Dark Ember. The scene was supposed to be simple: character A finds out something character B has hidden (major but not dangerous) and they have a few words about it.


While writing the scene, I found the characters were reacting more strongly than I anticipated. The scene ended with B chasing down A. I fought it for a while. We're gearing up for a battle, would this slow the pace too much? Don't we have better things to do?


The characters were insistent, though. I went to the previous chapter, did a little minor editing (had to remove a scene. It wasn't pretty but necessary) When I came back to the chapter they were trying to divert, I gave in.


1,600 words poured out like it was nothing. I finished the scene, finished the NEXT scene and then went back the next day.


It was a great scene, a necessary scene, and I had NO idea until the characters began tugging on their leashes. I hate letting them get away, as though I'm not doing my job. When it works though, it works.


I'm so proud of this novel. Dark Ember is turning into far more than I anticipated (though I need some more female characters. This is turning into a sausage fest) Its a great book, a book I would have loved to read.


Writing books I wanted to read is the coolest part of this.


My point is,listen to your gut. Write the notes, use the worksheets, do whatever you need to do to get the words on the page. When something changes, don't panic. If something isn't working, delete it. The best advice I ever got was "Words don't bleed, cut them." Just follow your instincts, even if you think its leading you somewhere you don't want to go.

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As an aside: I just finished Alexandra Bracken's Never Fade (The Darkest Minds' sequel) Its amazing. 5 out of 5 stars. I love these books. I'm reading In The Afterlight now.


Happy writing, my friends! -C.A.

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