Who’s Really in Control?

I love starting a new story. A blank page, or computer screen in today’s world, is filled with so many possibilities. I usually begin with a character. If I’m lucky that character might just pop into my head right out of the blue, and start speaking to me the way Pru Burbidge did when I wrote Bitter, Sweet.

Once I have my main character in place I have faith that the plot will eventually unfold. I usually have a broad sense ahead of time of what’s going to take place. It’s just a matter of moving from one scene to the next. I know— it sounds so simple. Doesn’t it?  Things tend to go along quite smoothly when we stay in control and we writers do have complete control over the page.

Um…Did I say complete control?

Maybe not so complete.

Sometimes a writer may have one idea about the story they’re working on, but one of their characters might not be so cooperative. Easy to get in a tug-of-war over some seemingly small issue all because some know it all doesn’t want to do things our way. We say go left but, oh no, they insist on going right. Who do they really think they are? Talk about ungrateful!  I mean, we’re the ones who create these characters, we breathe life into them, give them names, we are right there when they utter their first words on the page. But then we let them take those first few steps unattended, and the first thing we know they want to run the whole show.

I’m pretty sure most writers have come up against this exact scenario at one time or another. It might sound rather strange to those of you who do not write fiction, but I can assure you that many of the writers who are reading this are likely nodding their heads. Sometimes a writer thinks they have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen in a story, and right when we think we have it figured out we discover that we were totally mistaken.The story takes a completely different turn altogether. We end up scratching our heads in dismay.

I’m reminded of how in “real life” we become exasperated with the people around us for these exact reasons. We can’t understand why they make the choices they do or, why they fail to take our advise or, live up to our expectations. Why won’t they just do it the way we would? Why do they insist upon going their own way?

A good writer must sometimes  just allow a character to choose their own path, especially when said character is totally capable of making their own decisions. Just as a writer might have to relinquish control over their plots, so is it true in real life. There is no point in our becoming annoyed at someone simply because we cannot control the decisions they make. It is their life after all. As I write this I’m reminded of a particular person in my life, whose failure to meet  with change, often causes me grit my teeth. But I know it is my own selfishness, my own need to control their behaviour, that causes me irritation. I know that my annoyance really has nothing to do with their behaviour at all.  So from now on I’m going to practise acceptance and understing. They are just being the person they are. and nothing more. I may sometimes need to remind myself of this  from time to time, but I’m certainly going to make an effort.

I’ll push aside my own need to control, my own wrong beliefs that somehow I know what’s best for this person, just as I would for one of my character who keeps insisting left when I said right.

Acceptance often does lead to a peaceful ressolution. Doesn’t it?

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  1. That’s an interesting analogy, Laura. And true to every word. We can not control other people’s actions, but we can control how we want to think about it. Thank you for visiting and commenting on my blog post. :) I hope I can recover the missing balance in my life soon. Love, Punam

  2. That’s an interesting analogy, Laura. And true to every word. We can not control other people’s actions, but we can control how we want to think about it. Thank you for visiting and commenting on my blog post. :) I hope I can recover the missing balance in my life soon. Happy Friendships Day! Love, Punam

    • Thank you for your comment Punam. So often we do not realize that our annoyance with others comes stems from our desire for them do behave in a way that we wish them to.

      I’m sure in time you will find balance. I’m almost certain it is there, but something you might have to look for.

  3. Boy, you hit the nail on the head here, Laura! This is one of my biggest “issues” in real life…I like to be in control, and when things don’t go as I planned, I get cranky! And it is exactly that “need to control their behaviour” that I am also afflicted with! I have lots of work to do…


    • Thanks Wendy! It’s not always easy for us to admit these things or even see them in ourselves. When we recognize this sort of behaviour in ourselves we have the power to change it if we want to. Sometimes we need to reminded ourselves many times.

  4. How true this is, Laura. I like your analogy to real life. I don’t try to control people necessarily but I do get disappointed if they don’t do what I expect. Acceptance that they are who they are helps a lot. Forgive and accept are the way to go.

    I know what you mean about writing fiction, too. I am hopeless at writing an outline as my characters always go off and do what they want to anyhow.

    And don’t even get me started about Loup and his Facebook account. That dog is out of control! Hellllp! It’s fun writing his character though and blogging as Loup. I know, I need to get a life. Pretending to be a Malamute husky is so much more fun, though!

    • I’m not sure that we necessarily set out to control other people, Cathy, so much as we find ourselves disappointed when we are not able to control the outcome in a given situation. I don’t consider myself a controlling person, but when I see myself annoyed with someone’s behaviour I can only think that it has something to do my disapproval.If I had a say, they would do xyz.

      I’m sure you have a blast writing for Loup! There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s keeping you out of trouble. Isn’t it? lol

  5. I’ve been struggling with this exact predicament with one of my protagonists. Finally, we had to take a vacation away from each other. It wasn’t until I returned to him that I realized I hadn’t been listening. I wanted HIM to obey me. LOL. Then one day we sat together on the deck under a warm sun and talked. Turns out all I really had to do was listen. Amazing.

    Great post, Laura.

    • So annoying when Men will not listen…lol! I’m glad you were able to work things out with your protagonist. Men can be stubborn , but then so can we woman. :)

  6. I always think it’s strange to say we’re controlled by our fictional characters, but I guess we’re developing them as we develop the story so it’s reasonable to feel we’re being pushed in unintended directions by the changes.

    My DH often jokes, “Be reasonable. Do it my way,” but our characters often won’t. In real life I’m not sure the problem is always a result of needing to control so much as impatience or frustration. We believe that our approach is best, and we don’t understand why others don’t see that as clearly as we do! In the end we usually have to agree to disagree and quit trying to convince the other person to change their thinking.

    Interesting post, Laura. It’s food for thought.

    • I’m inclined to think that our impatience and frustration is a result of us wanting to control the decisions or actions of others otherwise we wouldn’t really mind. WE wouldn’t be frustrated. Our idea that we know the best approach might in someway hinder a person’s learning and discovering what is best by making their own decisions. I guess it’s something interesting to think about.

      Your DH sounds like he’s got a good sense of humour. Of course we wouldn’t do it their way..lol!

  7. Yes, yes, and yes! I couldn’t agree more. When I was reading your post I certainly was nodding my head, but then I read how this independence resulted in your dismay. This is actually one of the biggest joys that writing gives me – discovering how my characters will respond, and the more they surprise me the happier I am.

    • Yes, those pesky little character can sure stir up a racket from time to time. I’m sure many people who do not writer find this a bit strange, but writers usually nod their heads and agree.

  8. Great post! You’re spot on.

  9. I understand your frustrations, and I think a lot of our real-life struggle is because we want what’s best for the people we love. Sharing our views can be helpful, so I usually express how I feel about a situation, but unless their choice is going to have a huge negative impact on their lives–or the lives of others–I try not to be pushy. For me, it’s not a matter of accepting behavior I disagree with, but accepting that there is nothing I can do about it that brings me peace.

    • Thanks Carol. Acceptance can sometimes be difficult, I certainly agree with you there. And yes, I see what you mean by accepting that there is nothing we can do about the behavior of others does not mean we have to accept their behavior when we totally disagree. I guess when it comes down to it, if we didn’t care one way or another it wouldn’t make a difference. But when it involves those we truly care about it can be a tricky thing because we do want what is best for them.

  10. I love it when my characters do something unexpected that takes the book in a new direction. There is something so magical about the writing process when it seems as if the protagonists come to life and take charge of the story. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. What they come up with is better than what I could ever think of!

    • Yes, our character certainly can come up with some interesting plot lines all on their own. I’m sure that sounds ridiculous to a non-writer but, it is something that writers all seem to understand.


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