Writing Tip #97

Characters always talk. You decide whether they have something worthwhile to say. Truth be told, I’ve always been a little wary of authors who say they are completely powerless in the act of writing, those who claim to be merely “vessels” and that their characters are truly the ones who are doing the storytelling. I’ve experienced bouts of both absolute power and powerlessness during my writing sessions — times where I am deftly manipulating events and times when I have no idea where dialogue I’m typing is coming from — and I’m here to tell you that they are equally intoxicating. But if I had a gun to my head, so to speak (you know, thriller writer stuff), and were asked to choose, ultimately, whether it was the puppet master or the puppets who were running the show, I’d have to choose the former.

Characters are always talking. (As E.L. Doctorow said, “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.”) And while I’m always listening, I’m not always finding what they have to say worth jotting down. There were definite moments during the writing of Baby Grand where I was very conscious of making decisions that I didn’t think my characters would have made — and that’s because, as the author, I saw the big picture. I knew how the story ended. They didn’t.

But this week, I decided that I had to take what my characters were saying pretty seriously. For the past three months, as I was grappling with trying to promote Baby Grand and work on my second novel, In the Red, I have been inundated with TONS of ideas for the sequel to Baby Grand, which I had planned on writing after I finished my current work-in-progress. However, since Baby Grand premiered on Kindle back in May, so many readers have come to me with excitement and theories and questions/ideas for the sequel that my mind had begun to shift away from my current WIP and back to the characters and world I created in my debut novel. Plus, as I worked to release the POD paperback of Baby Grand (scheduled for a September release), as well as additional eBooks (available this week!) and an audiobook (coming in October), I have had to read and reread my manuscript, which has made those characters’ voices only become louder. So after fighting them off for months, and just jotting down things here and there to be written another day, I finally decided to wave the white flag and dust off the document that I had begun for the sequel a while back.

This was the same dilemma I faced back in February 2011 when having finished the first revision of Baby Grand, I was working on both In the Red and Baby Grand’s sequel. I even blogged about it. Of course, right after I wrote that post I had to abandon both books to tend to additional revisions of Baby Grand. And after having made the decision to self-publish and do all the things associated with making that happen earlier this year, I now find myself just where I was a year and a half ago, working on two manuscripts at once — not ideal, in my opinion, but what are you going to do?

That’s okay. The decision feels right. So I will work on both for a time, and my hope is that eventually one world’s characters will begin to drown out the others, and I can focus and finish one of these puppies. Of course, if that doesn’t happen, I’ll just have to pick one and tell the other guys to behave and give me a break for a while. I am the puppet master, after all.

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