From “Character” Flows Plot, Story, Narrative…And No Small Measure Of Arrogance…

(sigh) After my admittedly arrogant, preaching-to-the-choir, 2015 First WordPress Musing earlier today of “Just WRITE It, Dammit!” Faithful Reader & Screenwriter Friend Charles Plath justifiably demands a “so how do YOU write, A-Hole?” explanation from me.

So here it is, and I know—I just know!—my additionally arrogant words will come back someday to haunt me…

** Charles Plath: Lord Merkel, a question, sir. When you’re putting together a story, do you tend to do more of the King approach and just start typing what comes out and following it or do you do more of a structured scenes and notecards type approach before digging through? Your humble servant, Charles of Plath
————–

** Earl Merkel: Prithee, Lord Charles—I’ve never been able to discipline myself to do an outline. I tend to focus on creating what’s usually a still-shadowy (to me, at that point) outline of a Main Character, mentally develop her or him to where I feel I “know” him/her, and then decide on a locale, setting, and initial situation that “feels” interesting.

Often, I find myself writing the opening chapter (or prologue) wherein the Main Character doesn’t even appear—but which, at least in my own mind, creates and foreshadows the situation into which I’ll parachute him/her…allowing me the chance to create other characters who’ll help structure the narrative along the storyline.

If I “know” the Main Character well enough (and early on, I’m like the Intended Reader: I’m still getting acquainted), I trust her/him to act in accord with the personality and instincts I’m envisioning, and “respond” to the situation I’ve inflicted on the guy/gal in the way that character would.

(grin) Mirroring “real” life, she/he doesn’t know what happens “next;” nor do I, which I hope means the Reader similarly can’t guess who’dun’it too early in the book.

But it allows a logical narrative progression based on character(s) responding “the way they must” to an unfolding series of events… and, to date, that mysterious process has helped ensure I’ve never experienced the dreaded “writer’s block.”

Better still, I’ve found that at some point in the writing, inevitably, the Main Character goes rogue on me: does something completely unexpected (to me) that illuminates a deeper complexity inside him/her that previously I had not realized existed.

Oddly, it’s only at that point that I begin to get an inkling of the book’s ending…and the various plot points twist together to speed the story to that newfound conclusion.

But I suspect this “process”—ugh: I hate writers talking about their “process”—would not work had I wasted (my opinion) time with outlines or notecards; compared to actually writing, I find pre-planned structuring too bloodless an exercise to evoke the requisite, in-progress Voyage Of Discovery each writing-day.

I hasten to add that outlining, etc. works for other writers; if it does for you… well, Good Lord! Don’t think I’m trying to discourage you from using it. In fact, my good friend Mike Black (he of the Doc Atlas series), insists that I am unconsciously outlining-in-advance anyway, and just don’t realize it. He’s a martial arts expert and ex-cop, so I just shrug noncommittally and keep my bones unbroken in my differing opinion.

IMHO, my way is more fun. For me, and I hope for my Reader.

Go now, my son Chaz, and sin no more…

— EM

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