Surprise: You made me do it!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Monday, Peggy Bechko had a few words to say about plot construction and “killing your darlings.” Today, totally coincidentally, Diana Black presents another perspective on an important if ultra-writerly situation:

surprise shock

by Diana Black

Are you the servant or the master?

While we’re beholden to serving the story once we’ve settled on a solid premise and now heading out on the journey – at least until the obligatory rewrite, do we also allow the character free reign in the writing room once we’ve all in the boat?

In other words, do you follow your gut feeling and allow the character to ‘speak/act’ of their own accord or, do you tell them to shut the fuck up with, “I have devised what you’ll do, say, where you’ll go etc.” Those of us who are actors as well as writers, have no doubt, at some point been directed to follow/heed that gut impulse by acting on it, don’t ignore it – same animal.

We briefly explored ‘going with the gut feeling’ and being open to the emotional investment we’ve made and continue to make, come what may, in the article – The Creative Process.

Do you maintain your stubborn stance even when ‘tiny bells’ start ringing in your head or you sense, deep down in your gut, that hmm…it’s not really working? Shh… don’t tell… maybe they won’t notice – well the gatekeeper will.

So why are we so reluctant to let go? May I suggest it’s because we’ve invested a lot of time and emotional energy into that prefabricated plan – so much so, that we’re unwilling to ditch it. What would it mean to do that (ditch it)?

Well, as we are only too painfully aware, it’s a ‘story web’ we’re weaving and thus pulling on/out even just one of those threads, there’ll be a knock-on effect within. And if we dare inter-weave another thread – fuck! That’ll mean we’ve got to go back and take a look at where that leads, who it impacts on, the possible new direction the characters, let alone the narrative takes. Yup! Get over it!

Let’s think binary for a moment…if the character says “No” what affect will that have on the narrative?

What if they say “Yes” instead, what then?

Have you allowed the character to make a choice that’s in keeping with their Character Profile and if so, have you followed through on how that simple ‘red pill or blue pill’ moment affects every other character in terms of emotional impact or response?

How will that decision effect change in the other characters? A long, complicated process – no wonder we’re reluctant to ‘kill our darlings’.

Being a control freak once the character has been established seems hardly fair. They’re keen to get up off the page – and they can only do that if we let them. While this may sound loopy, they have a life to lead and once layered with desires, issues, secrets, problems, emotional wounds etc.

They’re keen to get movin’. So just like actors should get out of their own heads and serve the character they’ve momentarily become, so dare I say, should we as writers.

How many of us have experienced that feeling that we’re simply watching a movie and documenting it? Or that uncanny sense that there’s someone else ‘writing’ the script and that we’re simply along for the ride? When we open Pandora’s Box – with all it’s triumphs, tribulations and surprises it may have in store, we have little choice; like our hero our job is to embrace uncertainty.

Perhaps writing is just as much a journey into the mind of the self as it is a journey into the mind of the characters we create.



Diana Black is an Australian actress and writer in Larry Brody’s Master Class.