Wednesday, October 22, 2008

On being God.

Admittedly, there is somewhat of a power trip involved when writing. You get to create your own world, your own little minions, and make them do your bidding. It really is like being God. Or a god. Or something.

Assuming, of course, that your minions -- and world, for that matter -- actually cooperate and do your bidding. Anyone who has ever tried to write a story has probably discovered that this is not nearly as easy as it sounds. You would think that being an omniscient, omnipotent being would be easy. You would think, but you would be wrong. Being a god is kind of like becoming a manager: it looks like a powerful, highly rewarding job with minimal actual work...but when you actually become one, you realize that you're not as powerful as you think, your minions are still free-thinking and rebellious creatures, and the rewards are not quite as proportionate to the work as you expected.

Minor characters burst onto the scene and upstage main characters, sometimes hijacking the entire story for their own nefarious intentions. Main characters reject every command and forge their own path in spite of being explicitly told which way to go by The Divine Outline. I've occasionally had to make them sit in the corner and take a time-out to think about what they've done. Then, just to be obnoxious, I make sure to write a steamy sex scene between two other characters just to make him feel even more like a douche for not cooperating.

Later, when I figure he’s remorseful enough for what he’s done, I bring him back into the story only to discover that during his time-out, he’s been scheming and plotting other little mischievous antics to derail my plot. Most of the time, I end up with several characters that are hell-bent on driving me batty, such as the supposedly virtuous princess that won’t keep her hands off the noblemen.

Now, being a god, you would think that if a lowly minion got out of line, you could simply kill them off and be done with them. In some cases, you're right. I have had more than a few characters annoy me and find themselves meeting grisly ends in a not-too-distantly subsequent chapter. But some can be rather stubborn. Take one of my characters from "Sins of the Father": She was supposed to die at roughly the middle of the story. Being the stubborn little twat that she is, she survived the scene and went on to fight another day. Coincidentally, the next few chapters were to be filled with torture and torment for her companions, so as punishment for her unauthorized survival, she was to be tortured and killed. She was tortured, and probably wished she was dead, but just out of spite, she survived. In fact, she made it all the way to the climactic battle scene near the end, where I at last succeeded in killing her by tossing her flailing carcass against a rock.

So even killing them off doesn't work. I do the best I can to keep them behaving, but that's difficult at best. During their "off time" (while I'm writing a scene that doesn't involve them and they go to the break room for coffee and doughnuts), my characters have to be kept separate as much as possible. Otherwise, I have discovered, they band together and plot against me. I once received the following note from a character in one of my fantasy quest novels:

“These conditions are horrible. We have to work night and day on rations that would starve a rat, every time we get on a ship it nearly capsizes, and there are always people trying to kill us. Our sleeping arrangements are unacceptable: the beds always have fleas, we always sleep in inns on top of noisy pubs or on the ground, and [a character in the group] snores. We demand better pay, better sleeping accommodations, more food, and ease up on the Murphy’s Law. Must everything go wrong that can go wrong? Do we have to be attacked by bandits just because there are bandits somewhere in the desert? Come on, it’s a big desert, what are the odds? And for the love of God…well, the love of You, I guess…must we walk everywhere? How about some horses?? We are forming a union. Meet our demands or we go on strike. – Your Unhappy Employees”

So they’re either misbehaving or making demands. They are impossible to please, and they are incorrigible rascals. And speaking of deserts...

It turns out that even the world itself can't be expected to cooperate. My landscapes often end up with identity crises. A desert once declared that it wanted to be a swamp, much to the dismay of the camels in the traveling caravan (it turns out that camels aren't fond of swamps -- who knew?). Jagged snow-capped mountains decided at the last minute to become plains as flat as Oklahoma, which my characters did not mind at all, but required a bit of outline tweaking. After all, it's rather difficult to have rockslides or characters falling off of cliffs into rocky ravines when the land is so flat that a 6 foot hill gives a native a bloody nose. Sometimes landscapes are somewhat comfortable with their design, but still have a little curiosity and want to see what other landscapes or climates are like. Take, for example, the grassy steppes that insisted it wanted to try being an arctic tundra. After some begging and pleading on my part (how sad is that? God pleading with the plains?), the steppes finally agreed to stay the way they were so long as I promised an Ice Age in the sequel.

Water, I have come to realize in my time as a God, is a prima donna. No matter what, it always has to jump in at the most inopportune moment. My characters were recently traveling through a forest, minding their own business, when a crashing river suddenly cut right in front of them, leaving them scratching their heads and wondering what to do. I dread putting my characters on ships these days. It seems that every time I do, the water demands a place in the limelight. If it doesn’t start rocking the boat to the point that all of my characters spend the voyage hanging their heads off the railing, it sends some creature of hideous proportions to try to destroy the ship. When I asked the water about it, I was given a terse reply of “at least one paragraph per page, or the next ship gets it.” Needless to say, my next book takes place in a desert.

The weather is not exactly cooperative either. I’ve recently gotten a number of complaints from my characters about weather. Two characters were supposed to have their first intimate moment together outside of an Abbey they were staying in, but the rain insisted on coming down. I decided to make lemonade since the weather gave me lemons, and have them make love in the rain. Quite the battle ensued between the characters and myself. After thousands of rewrites, they won: they wanted to be indoors instead of outside in the pouring rain. I said it would add to the moment if they were in the rain but oblivious to the chill. It would seem more romantic; making love in the rain is always a winner. They said: “God, you’re an idiot. We’re going inside.”

So as you can see, being a god is not an easy task. Sometimes I can't even convince them to keep a name that I've carefully selected. Ms Papercuts empathized with this problem, describing a character whom she had named one thing, but every time she went to write his name, another name fell onto the page.

Now, if you'll excuse me: I have a soldier who's supposed to fall in love with the princess, but has taken a shine to her brother instead. *sigh*

To paraphrase Kermit the Frog: It's not easy being God.


  1. See, this is why I don't outline in the main - I know some bloody-minded part of me would see that as a restriction and force me to go contrary to my ideas for the story even more than I do already!

    As we discussed on MSN earlier, there was that time I named a character Stephen and I kept typing Simon instead. Eventually I thought, "Oh screw it, your name's Simon, fair enough." Didn't really matter. He was an important character; his name wasn't an important name.

    But that was the first time something like that happened and it was such a strong feeling it shocked me; but I realised I should take it as a sign my writing was becoming stronger and my characters were becoming real to me and in turn, there was a chance they would be real to my readers.

    The way I work is, I get to know my characters first. I know it's pretentious to think of them as real people, but if it works, it works, right?

    Perhaps it would be truer to say okay, they're not real, but they're realistic. And the more realistic they become, the more details I come to know about them, whether that be their name or their hair colour or more important details.

    I had one female MC once who had a bleached blonde bob, but I kept writing her with longer hair of a darker colour. Sheesh. And for the purposes of the story, she had to have a fake hair colour.

    Never had your problems with landscape though but that comes with my genre - I write urban fantasy as opposed to pure fantasy, also erotic fiction (otherwise known as pervlit), other words, anything set in the 'real' world. Which means - no worldbuilding.

    My NaNo character (female MC I mean) has been through a number of nametags thus far...jeez, and I thought it was hard (fnarr) settling on a genre or a particular project. I'll probably be fiddling around with my cast list right up until midnight on Hallowe'en.


  2. Pervlit??? You write pervlit??? ZOMG, I'm associating with a PERV. HORRORS!

    *quietly goes back to writing another piece of pervlit*

  3. So she writes pervlit, now I understand the REAL reason you like her so much

  4. I will have to say that in my current story (the first one I am going to actually finish, barring the return of Christ!) outlining has been an issue. My characters tend to act the same way:

    The character who was suppose to be the main character's uncle has no desire to be such and the mountain does not want to be a prison to the dragon. My main bad guys don't even feel like being bad guys! They just want to hang out behind the scenes, maybe just being mentioned in passing! Aas (Argh! and sigh...)

    Despite the fact that I would be one of those who would say, "Oh, well, I probably will not read that particular book...", please keep up the writing, as you are a great and humerous encouragement to me.

  5. **humorous** mental spell check was off.