When Our Own Characters Surprise Us
My favorite story that I ever wrote ended up the complete opposite of what I intended. I read a line in one of my anthropology textbooks about a Jesuit priest who went crazy and tried to commit suicide by holy water suppository. The textbook never went into detail about this incident. After I read about it I was struck by two thoughts: This is a depressingly hilarious tidbit of information and where’s the story behind that?
Further research came up with nothing and it felt like this story so badly needed to be told. So, I picked up my pen and I began to write what was going to be the funniest story ever written in the history of mankind.
The first thing I needed to do was to find out what kind of man would go crazy and do this sort of thing? What would have taken him to such bizarre extremes?
The more questions I asked about this character, the more sad things turned out to be. The more I explored his past and his emotional turmoil, the more I felt a strange mix of sympathy and antipathy for the character.
I brought this character to his limits and how he responded was anything but hilarious.
In the end, I wound up with a sad and kind of creepy story about a man tormented by his inner demons.
I have yet to complete this story. I’m hoping for it to be the next one I publish. I still need to work on a few things here and there, but I have never felt quite as good about what I had written and I have never had quite so much fun writing as I have had with this story.
If you have a pretty good idea of what kind of story you’re going to write and what kind of ending you’re going to have, don’t force your characters to act the way you want them to so that you get your dream ending. Sometimes your characters don’t want to bend that way. Even if you’re uncomfortable with where the character is taking you, don’t push against it.
Sometimes the best and most organic stories will take you somewhere you never expected.