Thursday, April 24, 2008

Running away with the plot

Yesterday I called up my sister to chat. She had left a message a while back that I just get around to hearing about wanting to talk about writing, so I decided to follow it up. We had a nice conversation about writing and the creative process and how characters develop in your mind.

Afterwards, deciding to run with this state of mind, I sat down and started working on a story I had been working at. Four characters were sitting down at a table and talking. I worked through the section, writing what the characters said.

Something weird happened. Eventually, one of the characters verbally confronted another, and the second got angry. In fact, the first actually accused the second of being very risible. I had not really been expecting the conversation to go in this direction. I stopped writing, not knowing if I should go on or not, or start over. The first character was calm and impassive, usually. This seemed to kind of come out of the blue. Yet it also felt rooted in his character. And I had wanted to these characters to share a close bond, or so I thought. But now it looked like I was setting them up to be kind of antagonistic. This completely messed up where I thought this story was going. What to do?

Yet later that night, I was sitting around, and thinking about these characters, and it occurred to me what was going on.

Now, this story, or at least this scene, is supposed to be slightly allegorical. The characters sitting at the table represent life, death, nature, and human will. The character representing life is the main character, and is almost a blank slate. Death sits passively, has almost no discernible personality, but has a power of presence that allows him to dominate, with hardly speaking, the entire atmosphere of a scene. Nature is the calm, passive one, and the one who rebukes the other the Life. Human will is large, good-humored, but with a bit a bit of a sadistic streak.

And it made sense to me that Nature would Rebuke life in such a way. It is nature with makes life brutal, that forces living things to engage in the world, reminding them of their isolation and violence, a fact of existence that cannot be escaped. The point of most world religions is dealing with how life, or existence, in the world invariably leads to suffering. Why wouldn't Nature remind Life of how brutal he can be?

And what happened next worked to. Will laughs. The human response to the suffering of existence to make light of it, to revel in it. Or perhaps just deal with it with a common nervous response.

Death chastises Nature, by only saying his name, leading Nature to apologize. Death referees the battle between living things and their surroundings. The continued death of species allows creatures to continue existing in nature, and puts limits upon what nature can accomplish. It is the moderator between us and our surroundings, and it does this with barely a word.

Also, I thought about where I know the story is going. Two books later in the story. The characters that I am imbuing as Nature and life will meet for the last time that the Nature character with be alive. At this point I will probably have abandoned these particular allegories for the characters, allowing them to shift into something new. But Nature character will be about to die, due to speaking his mind to the wrong people. The Life character will be in a kind of exile, in part for an part of violence he committed in the grip of an almost divine fury. This first confrontation will echo the place these characters find themselves in when they last speak. And I hadn't known that when I wrote the rebuke.

Now, keep in mind, I didn't plan any of that, or write it with allegory in mind. I had just come up with characters whose personalities, I thought, reflected certain vague concepts, then let them sit and talk. And they ended up doing something I hadn't expected, and being more interesting than what I had planned.

So I have decided to keep it. Hell, I think I will lengthen it, add in some commentary that underlies the metaphor a bit more (as well as some other issues).

I love when characters run away with the plot.