Life as a Writer

Five Ruffians Ransacked My Story

The most important thing to know about writers:

We do NOT control our characters.

Gosh, I wish we did. That would make my life so much easier. But I have no control over those little turkey-butts.

(Yes, Kara, even you are a turkey-butt. Brinnie, don’t even start with me. Let’s talk about a certain guy. Yeah? Exactly.)

Sorry about that. Some of my protagonists were arguing with me.

I have everything neatly planned out for their lives.

But then they don’t listen.

One girl was only supposed to have a whimsical adventure in a quirky country mansion. It was only supposed to be one children’s book.

That turkey grew a backbone and carried me along for an entire young adult trilogy.

One man was only supposed to die.

Then he revealed his enormous backstory and actually made me care about him. (Don’t worry. I still killed him.)

But the secondary characters are the worst. Because they decide, “You know what? We don’t want to be background characters anymore. We want to be important.”

Like recently. I was writing an allegory about a beggar girl and a prince, all neat and tied up. All was going well. My main character, the beggar, was thrown in jail in chapter 2 like she was supposed to be:

     I fell into the dirt below, landing in more than just dust. The door screeched in protest as the peacekeeper slammed it behind me. He called through the bars, “Behave, you lousy lot! Or I’ll chop off more than your hands tomorrow!” His slapping sandals kept the beat to his laughter as he left.
My heart pounded as I gazed around the dark hole, blinking as my eyes adjusted from the scorching light outside. Ragged breathing scraped my senses.
I had five companions in the dreary hole, looking more like piles of dirt and rags than human beings.

Going well, right? But then the next two words:

Except one.

What? I wondered. These are just run-of-the-mill extras. No personality.

I looked up in that jail cell. I took in his ridiculous appearance. And I began to sweat. No way, I said. You’re not in this story.

He grinned. Why, yes, yes, I am.

This is supposed to be literary! I’m taking a class called “Writing the Literary Novel!”

He crossed his arms and leaned back. Yet here I am.

     I had five companions in the dreary hole, looking more like piles of dirt and rags than human beings. Except one. A man with a smile escaping up the right side of his face leaned against the wall, his arms crossed over his coarse tunic, his voluminous, billowing pants patched with scraps of fabric of every shape, color, and material.
He threw his arms out expansively. “Welcome! What an honored guest!”

Oh, great, I thought. I just need to get rid of this wacko quickly.

But he wasn’t alone.

     I pushed myself up, wiping my hands on my tunic. None of the others gave him any notice. One seemed asleep, his yellowed white hair falling over his face. Another was investigating a loose tooth with the tip of one thick finger. He didn’t look like he could afford to lose another.
“Come on!” the side-smiling man said. “Nothing? You’ve come to the best way-place in all Coran!”
I didn’t know what to say. Instead, I turned to the door. The latch was thrown on the other side.
“Yes, they do lock it. Strange, right? Locking a prison?”
I glared at the man briefly in annoyance, but forced myself to look away. I returned to the door, reaching my thin arm through the bars, groping for the latch.
“What did you get thrown in here for?” the man asked. “Being too ugly?”
“Would you shut up?” a man in the corner complained. He ran his hands through his bushy hair, exposing his bloodshot eyes.
“It isn’t my fault you drank yourself into a headache,” the patched-pants man said. “The rest of us can have a little fun. You had yours last night. What did you do, again? Was it—”

And they Just. Kept. Going. Behold, a bit later:

     Patch-Pants grinned and turned to me. “What do you say, girl? Break us out?”
Had he not been paying attention? “I-I… I can’t. I t-tried.”
“I’ve got a few things up my sleeve… or in my pants.” He reached into his baggy trousers and fished around. He pulled out a twig about as long as his hand. “Too short.” He reached in again and pulled out a piece of rope. “No.” His hands dug around until he cried, “Aha!” He pulled out a fire poker about a forearm in length.
“Sands!” Scrawny exclaimed. “That was in there?”
“I always need something to stir the fire. And, of course, a trusted weapon to fend off the women who throw themselves at my feet.” Patch-Pants turned to me. “You’re skinny. Think you can do it?”
He held it out and I took it. Sneaking out by myself was one thing; helping the rest escape was quite another. I might not be seen, but they… “Y-yes. B-but the guards—”
His smile journeyed far up his right cheek. “We’ll have a little fun!”
“I want no part of this,” the drunkard muttered, settling farther into the corner.
“Easy for you to say. You’re not getting your hand chopped off tomorrow,” Scrawny said.
Loose-Tooth flashed a gapped smile and clapped his hands together like boulders clashing. “I’m always in for some fun.”

You just met my band of five ruffians:

  • Patch-Pants (also knowns as Bartholomew Matthias Ishmael the Third) the flamboyant bounty hunter
  • Scrawny (Saariq) the reluctant kleptomaniac
  • Loose-Tooth (Hashim) the good-natured brawler
  • Samuel the responsible drunkard
  • and Geddo, the incoherent old man and irascible gambler

Guess who the main characters are now?

Yep. Them.

Guess who is no longer writing a literary allegory?

Yep. Me.

So, if you like stories about unlikely heroes joining a rebellion against a rebellion against the king (yes, of course they made it complicated), you’ll probably enjoy The Road to Cael once I finish it and (fingers crossed and say a prayer) it gets published.

I’ve spent about 20,000 words with these rascals, and I have 60,000 left to go. Never say we have control over our characters.

Wish me luck.

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