Letting the Characters Speak

I'm terrified of rambling in stories.  Of all my pet peeves when reading, I think rambling ranks #1 or close to.  I hate it.  The long, drawn-out descriptions of nature or yet another conversation on why the hero and heroine can't be together... snooze fest.

But I think this fear of rambling has held me back in some ways.  In an effort to ensure the plot constantly moves forward I sometimes cut things a little too short.  Some description is a good thing and is possibly one of the most powerful tools a writer can use to affect the pace of their plot.

So I've been trying a new tactic lately.  I've been trying to let the characters unfold.  I figure I've been so anti-rambling that I could probably swing pretty far in the other direction and still be safe from falling into the rambling trap.

It's easier said than done.  Other than just jotting down basic, basic ideas for plot direction, I've stopped outlining.  I found that when I outline I adhered to the notes a little too strictly (I'm a very linear person).  So once I covered all the basic points I wanted to cover in the chapter I would think, "Well, that chapter is done, on to the next!"

Now I'm trying to let the characters tell me when the chapter should end.  By not sticking to a strict plan they can react much more naturally.  I find I end up surprised by what's happening.  My chapter notes used to be something like:

-have hero return
-space ship broken down
-heroine is happy to see him again
-they still don't have enough money for repairs

Now that there's no outline all sorts of strange things start to happen to the story. The heroine will break down crying just because it seemed like the thing she would do at the time.  I'm not an especially weepy person so it's not something I would have ever considered adding to said outline.  If she was unhappy she would have probably gotten into a fight with the hero over their broken space ship.  But nope.  There she is.  Crying.  What does the hero do about it?

It's both liberating and terrifying letting the characters speak.  I now realize that the author really doesn't have as much control of their stories as they'd like to think.  You can come up with the ideas but you give the ideas life by writing them down there's no telling what will happen next.

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