Thursday, October 21, 2010

What I've Learned - Bird by Bird (3)

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

In Part 3 of my recap of Anne Lamott's book, Bird by Bird, I'm going to talk about False Starts.

In Chapter 6 of her book, Anne talks about a church she used to go to. At this church there were lots of older folks, which at first she put into one large group. As she continued to go to the church, she noticed they were all different. If she never spent more time at the church, she never would have noticed. This is how she relates it to her characters:
When you write about your characters, we want to know all about their leaves and colors and growth. But we also want to know who they are when stripped of the surface show. So if you want to get to know your characters, you have to hang out with them long enough to see beyond all the things they aren't. You may try to get them to do something because it would be convenient plotwise... But with luck their tendrils will sneak out of the sides of the box you've put them in, and you will finally have to admit who they are isn't who you thought they were.

This chapter helped me figure out a tough scene that I talked about in my progress update on Monday.

I think the scene was so tough because I was hell-bent on making one of my characters do something he didn't want to. At the end of the day, he's a kind soul, willing to forgive, but I wanted him to hate my main character for what she did. I wasn't getting the awesome reaction I wanted when she finally confessed. After thinking about it, I went with who the character really was, not who I wanted him to be, and now I think I have a pretty good scene.

Do you pull the puppet strings with your characters, or do you let them tell you what they want?


  1. That's such a good lesson--to learn who your characters are, instead of who you want them to be. I need to go buy a copy of this book!