We all know that the Chinese character for “crisis” is composed of the characters for “danger” and “opportunity,” which is great except for the fact that it’s absolutely false. But I had a minor crisis in my writing last week that led to an amazing opportunity, so let’s pretend for now that it’s true.
You’ll hear all the time about how we Seat of the Pants Writers are totally disorganized, but leaving bits unplanned leads to incidences like this week, where my characters messed up their author in a little way, and the author made it pay off in spades.
If you’re sane, you’re yelling at the screen, “Jane, love, you wrote those characters. They can’t do anything without you writing it.”
In a sense, yes, and in a sense, no. In order to keep my characters believable, they have to act within what I’ve told you about them already. My incredibly street-savvy martial artist isn’t going to walk down that dark alley no matter what good thing I have planned if she goes. She simply knows better. My international spy is not going to blindly sip that drink, and my holy angel isn’t going to do something God told him not to. If they did without explanation, you’d say my character wasn’t behaving believably.
Therefore, sometimes in order to behave believably, your character is going to do something you didn’t want him to.
Case in point:
In ♥My Book♥, the cellist of the string quartet (Josh) stutters. At a recording session, he can hear himself in the headphones, which renders him temporarily fluent. This is a documented effect called “choral speaking” and it’s the basis behind devices like the SpeechEasy, which operate on delayed auditory feedback and help some stutterers speak fluently.
Much fun ensues, as Josh makes it his goal to say his name five hundred times during the recording session.They’re all joking around. Josh ends up explaining the choral speech effect.
And then Harrison, the first violinist, for whom money is not a problem, offers to buy Josh a SpeechEasy.
This was not in my plot! This was not something I had planned, and it was most assuredly not in the best interests of the story. But it was absolutely something Harrison (straightforward and generous) would do. I couldn’t leave it out, or readers would say, “Harrison, you jerk, cough up the five grand for the device!” It would never occur to Harrison not to offer this.
I went to the web and researched this device, all the pros and cons. The first group of “cons” I found were all related to the price, which unfortunately was no longer an issue. So I kept looking until I found an informative post online which outlined reasons why someone would turn it down even if it were free.
Two items on the list have direct connections to Josh. He can honestly say he doesn’t want it and give reasons.
And…the dynamic between Josh and Harrison was something I intended to highlight in this scene anyhow. The tension actually emerges better this way.
This is why I eschew overplanning (and why I enjoy words like “eschew”) and why taking the easy way out would have short-changed both the characters and the story itself, not to mention the readers. Harrison got to be Harrison, and Josh got to be Josh, and I got to keep my story in line. In the end, we all win except for the poor misunderstood Chinese character for crisis.