I had one of the greatest lessons of writing reinforced to me this afternoon as I was working on Blood & Steel.
In writing The Crownless King I came to realize that the characters were absolutely vital to the success of a good story. While the plot is essential and can be used to build characters, the reader has to have some connection with the character, be it basic or complex, that keeps him interested in what is going on. After all, I can remember countless times when I've refused to put a book down because I can't wait to see how a character is going to react to what happened.
I also learned that once a character is established, as a writer I have to be true to that character. I can't give a character certain characteristics and a certain attitude and then make him react to a crisis in a way inconsistent with his character just because I like how someone else did it. As much as the writing and the narration gives me a place to voice my thoughts, I have to allow the characters to freely voice and act out their own feelings.
Blood & Steel took a twist this afternoon that I wasn't expecting it to. I know there are people out there who will wonder how something I'm creating can go somewhere I don't expect, but it happens. And it happens chiefly because I'm making a real effort to listen to what the characters want to do.
From the beginning I had planned for Sam to return to his former home to find his own roots and learn the lessons he needed to learn to be able to be the kind of leader he wants to be. (If it sounds a bit general it's because I don't quite yet want to give away what's going on in Blood & Steel.) I always planned on Sam making the journey alone.
But this afternoon a character spoke up and had valid reasons for wanting to go with Sam. And I found that I couldn't argue with those reasons. Not only did the character have valid reasons, but the situation I'd created for Sam had demanded that he deal with this character in some fashion. I hadn't planned on any of that happening, but it did.
To my mind, writing sometimes is as much a process of discovery as it is planning. I do know how this novel is going to begin and I know where it ends. As with all things in life, it's the journey from beginning to end that gives these moments meaning and perspective. We all lose perspective sometimes, be it in life or writing. It can be difficult in either case to find it again, but I've learned that in writing the trick to finding it is to listen to your characters.
They'll see that you get home again.