Thursday, January 25, 2007

Power, Control and other myths

Yesterday's post about how neatly -- and surprisingly -- I'd killed off Flynn's poor unsuspecting brother brought a comment from Jennifer about how neat it must be to be a writer and have all that "power and control."

Um, no.

You can kill off people, yes, which I suppose counts for a sort of power and a kind of control. But it isn't all power and control. It comes with responsibilities.

You can't kill them off for no reason at all (unlike real life which just seems to happen). You can make it so they never existed, which is not the same thing. But if you kill off a character, you need a reason for it. If he was there for a reason, he has to die for a reason, too.

And that reason is the real power behind the decision. How does it affect the story you need to tell? There are going to be ramifications.

If you kill off someone's brother, he isn't the same. No one losing a sibling is. There's a hollow in his life. An emptiness. A loss that can never be filled. The future changes. So do expectations. That's what happened to Flynn.

Since his brother died, I understand the edge to him that I didn't understand before. It colors his view of everything that has happened to him since. And even though it happened over a dozen years ago, its impact continues.

And while I might be an "accessory" to this death in order to be faithful to the story, I never feel as if it's me controlling them or bending the characters to my expectations. Remember, I'm the one who couldn't kill anyone off a couple of months ago. Apparently because it didn't belong in the story.

This time it did.

And when I went back this evening and re-read the sections of The Great Montana Cowboy Auction where Flynn and Sara met I understood them even better than when I'd written the book five years ago. Reading it now, I am reminded of how young and impressionable Sara was at the time, how innocent and idealistic and occasionally, where her mother was concerned, judgemental. And I recall Flynn's charm and at the same time a youthful recklessness that I didn't completely understand then. Now, having discovered the dead brother, it makes a lot more sense.

Is this control? No. Power? I don't think so.

Usually I'm not even remotely in charge (though as you'll recall with Theo I do occasionally try to influence the way heroes behave). What it is is simply the determination to show up every day with my pen and paper or my computer turned on, and sit poised to listen and write what I hear.

Some days they don't talk, or I write without hearing, and they come along after and say, "No, no, no. That's not what I meant." And then we try again. And sometimes again.

It's fun sometimes and painful other times.

And occasionally (like yesterday) I can pretend I'm powerful and in control. But mostly what I am is there -- listening, focusing, trying to make the right choices to illuminate who these people are, to show them growing, changing, developing -- becoming through the story more the people they were meant to be.

Or is that bee?


Blogger Jennifer Y. said...

Thank you for sharing this and clearing things up for me. It was a wonderful post. I am definitely not a writer, so it is sometimes hard for me to understand everything that goes on in the writing process. I am just a reader.

26 January, 2007  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Jennifer, thank you for saying so. When I re-read it this morning I thought it was much too serious and precious and I wanted to take it down.

Theo rolled his eyes and told me to get over it. Flynn said he was glad I was taking him seriously because no one else was. And Spence is off somewhere being shoved between the covers of a book and is, fortunately, incommunicado. I shudder to think what he'd have said.

Anyway, it's lovely to talk to readers. There is no such thing as "just a reader." You and other readers make my life possible. I can't thank you enough.

26 January, 2007  
Blogger Jennifer Y. said...

Thanks Anne!

26 January, 2007  

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