The Road—and Story—Less Traveled

So, I was talking to a couple of my characters today. Don’t laugh—this is a real thing. And suddenly I realized that they had more to say than I was giving them credit for.

This happens sometimes in writing. Especially in a series. When I started fleshing out these two characters, I had pictured them as a cute little couple, with a juicy little backstory that would definitely get readers interested.

As they started to develop, I saw the way that they impacted the other characters. Not just the characters in their story, but in future stories. They were quickly becoming the foundation for the series, in a very real sense.

So the problem became: how to position them. I pondered on this for a long while, and it came to me that this is sometimes a problem I have in my writing.

I hate to outline. But I do it diligently. A little too diligently, according to the source of all knowledge: my editor. When I told her about the shift in these two characters and the problems that I was facing in positioning them, she suggested I start another story.

I was flabbergasted. Another story? That’s the advice? Why would I start another story? The answer is simple: because I can.

Unlike other professions where the problem, or the task, comes to you and you must use the tools at your disposal to solve it, WE choose what happens in our stories.

If I was a doctor and someone came to me with a pain in their side, I wouldn’t do surgery on their finger. Or would I? Ok, that’s for a different blog.

No, I would figure out what was causing the pain in their side, and then fix it.

Sometimes, when we “fix” our writing, it doesn’t come out the way we envisioned at all. Your main character, living the high life in their loft in Chelsea, somehow evolves into a character living in a van by the river. I don’t know how this happens, but it does.

And it’s exciting. And scary. Because in real life we do not get to make these type of choices. Usually if you’re living in a van by the river, something has gone horribly wrong. And that still may be the case for your character. But their horribly wrong can be the thing that’s right for your story.

Maybe, somewhere in the backstory, you’ve discovered that they have a little problem with addiction. And maybe that addiction leads them to a rock bottom in their life. That rock bottom can be the start of a journey that leads you, and your readers, through a variety of emotions to get to the other side.

Because isn’t that what we want from the books that we read? A journey? If every character were using the same route, going in the same direction, how boring would that be? It reminds me of those scenes at the beginning of every single movie about Wall Street where this horde of people are fighting to make it down the street to the forty-story glass and steel building where they will spend their day toiling away.

But there is always the one guy, the main guy, who’s standing apart from the crowd. Watching. He doesn’t want to be part of that crowd. And whether he achieves his identity in a good way or a bad way, you’re going to remember him. Hopefully. Since the movie is probably about his journey.

Why he veered off the path. Took the road less traveled by. And in the end, did it really “make all the difference”? Yes, a shameless plug for Robert Frost.

“The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. I refer to that poem a lot, in my life and in my writing. And I referred to it today as I began the task of rewriting my newest novel, complete with a prologue I never knew existed. My characters were about to take that road. With me as their guide. Good or bad, I knew that I—and they—would be all the better for it in the end.