In Control Of My Characters

In Control Of My Characters

Is a writer a conductor or a conduit?

by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Yesterday, I was talking to a writer friend of mine, and we got into a discussion about whether the author controls the events in a book, or whether the characters do, and the author is merely there to record the events.

She runs a writing group and had posed this very question to them, and encouraged a discussion. One particular member of the group claimed that the characters did, in fact control the story and what happens in it, and that all she does is write down what they tell her. Others claimed to have complete control over the story and told their characters what to do, and made them do it, with varying consequences, all of which are controlled by the author.

This got me thinking. I’ve been writing since I learned how to hold a pen. I’ve always loved stories, and creating other worlds and tales. I fully believe that I was born to write, but when asked this question, I had to admit to myself that I am not always fully in control of what I write.

I don’t, personally, believe that my characters are autonomous, and that I am merely the conduit for putting their adventures down on to paper. If I’m honest, I think that perspective is self indulgent, and can give the author a ‘get out of jail free’ card for sub-standard writing- “It’s not my fault. The characters made me do it”.

However, I don’t believe (and I have personal experience of this) that I am in full control either. You see, when I write, as the characters grow- and they do grow- they reveal more about themselves to me, which enables me to enrich the story, but I see this process as far more of a collaboration.

I remember several years ago, during my degree, one of my tutors suggested something for my 10000 word project, and although I considered this suggestion, it simply wasn’t right for my character. It felt wrong. I can’t explain how, exactly. I think you need to be a writer to understand, but I just knew instinctively that this wasn’t right for my character, who already had so much going on anyway.

In fact, I remember the day I was thinking about it, and I could almost say that I ‘heard’ this character say to me in a sarcastic voice “Haven’t I got enough going on already, without you turning me into a drunk?”. I know it sounds crazy. It makes very little sense to me, and I’ve been living with characters in my head for almost thirty years.

All I can tell you, is that in the process of writing, you develop a relationship of sorts with your character, and you learn when to push things to move the story along, and when to take a step back and just let the character speak.

We’ve all read writing that seems forced and doesn’t really reach us on a deeper emotional level, and I feel strongly that this happens more often when the writer is not engaging, and listening to the character’s opinion as well as their own.

Any writers out there, what’s your view?


Li Carter is a writer, artist and crafter. She lives in South Wales, UK, with her family, and five rescue dogs. She’s on Twitter @rbcreativeli , Facebook: Rainbow Butterfly Creative, and Instagram @rainbowbutterflycreative and is the author of My Only True Friend: The Beginning. She is currently working on a new series titled The QuickSilver Chronicles. She is the original Rainbow Butterfly, and wants to fill an ever darkening world with a little bit of beauty and creativity.

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