‘You don’t always get to your destiny in a straight line…’
Isn’t that the truth?
I read that recently. There was more to the statement, but for the purposes of this blog, I’ll just use the above quoted sentence for now.
When I sit down to write a story, generally speaking, I have an idea where I want it to go. Not always, but most of the time. I kind of have an idea about the main character and things he/she will have to face over the course of the story. Sometimes, however, those characters have minds of their own and they decide they want to go in a different direction than I want them to. There’s that straight line, or lack there of.
I’m sure I’m not alone in the fight for control over the characters of my stories. I’m sure other writers have this same parent to child conversation or argument with their characters from time to time:
‘You will do what I told you to do, and that is that.’
‘I don’t want to do that.’
‘I don’t care. That is how you will be written. End of discussion.’
‘I’m not doing it and you can’t make me.’
‘I can’t make you? I can’t make you? Are you sure about that?’
‘You can’t make me.’
‘Oh, we’ll see about that, young man (or woman).’
And things really get out of hand with all the screaming and yelling and slamming of doors and the ‘I hate you,’ and ‘I know, but I still love you,’ to the ‘you open that door up right now, young woman (or man), and you do what I told you to,’ to the ‘I can’t wait until I leave this place.’ It’s a truly vicious cycle.
Read the following and I’ll relate it back to the main point. I promise.
After his father leaves in the middle of the night, Cory Maddox and his mom, Gina, are forced to start over. Left alone while Gina tries to work her way out of debt, Cory deals with life as the new kid in school with no friends. Fleeing from the school bullies, Cory ends up under and overpass where an old homeless man lives. After being saved from the bullies, Cory and the homeless man, Mr. Washington, become friends.
But things don’t get any easier for Cory. Children are disappearing from around the state, and the bullies haven’t forgotten his escape the first time they went after him. And there is something wrong with Mr. Washington…something terribly wrong.
Accompanied by his only two friends and the unlikeliest of allies, Cory sets out to keep a promise to the ailing homeless man. Will Cory and his friends find a way to keep the promise, or will the journey prove too difficult for them?
This is the blurb for my debut novel, Cory’s Way. I began working on this book in the summer of 2008, hoping to write a short story about a young boy who is befriended by a homeless man one day while trying to escape a pair of bullies out to put a beating on him.
I had a direction. I had the characters. I had the scenery. I had a straight line. I was good to go, right?
Sadly, I made it through the first four or five chapters before I realized there was no real story, and if there’s no story, well, it’s just a bunch of words that doesn’t truly have a direction.
There’s that straight line issue again. And again, there was the lack there of, or in this case, a line that just abruptly ended. It was a roadblock of sorts, and Cory and Mr. Washington and the Burnette Brothers and Gina had all ran right into the wall.
Cory’s Way was shelved for a couple years. It was no different than any of the multitude of stories started and destined to not be finished. I really thought I had worked my last on it.
In the summer of 2010 I read a news article about a man who had kidnapped someone. I won’t go into details of that article here–it’s not necessary for this particular blog. However, after reading the article, I knew why I had thought Cory’s Way was not really a story: Good stories are like real life, they have conflict. There was no real conflict, other than the bullies chasing Cory at the beginning of the story.
There was also no emotional connection anywhere. At this point Cory’s father leaving wasn’t even part of the story. Neither was his mother moving them away or ninety percent of the story after chapter four. For all it was worth, Mr. Washington could have been the holly jolly St. Nick and the Burnette Brothers could have been a flying trapeze duo.
But I had another line to follow and this one was as straight as it could be. I followed it, allowing the story and the characters to lead the way, and yes, that line stayed straight. Until one character didn’t seem to want to play nice with the others. He exited, stage left, folks. Yeah, that straight line had another detour in it.
Still, there’s more. Characters came and things were done and scenes were created, all of them taking that straight line and detouring several times until the end had been reached, and guess what? Even the ending was different than I originally thought, and I think it is more appropriate and satisfying than I had planned. This time, the characters were right in taking over the story, and what they came up with was so much better than I had come up with. And they did it along a line that wasn’t quite straight.
Cory’s Way didn’t happen in a straight line. If it would have, I don’t think it would be as good. Here’s the thing: The point is not to always make it to the end of the trip by going from point A to point B. The point is to enjoy the ride along the way. A major joy of writing is tagging along and seeing where the characters take you. It’s the same with reading. So, enjoy the ride, enjoy the story.
Until we meet again, my friends…
(For those wondering, the complete quote that led to this post is: You don’t always get to your destiny in a straight line. Sometimes God takes you on a detour as He prepares you for where He is taking you.)