Confessions of an Out of Control Author
by Laurien Berenson
I can’t control my characters. There, I’ve said it. I feel much better now. I have no idea how this happened. Maybe it was when they began to seem more real to me than some members of my own family? Or perhaps when I began to wonder what they were doing when I put the book aside and went away?
I write a cozy mystery series about a woman named Melanie Travis. She’s a busy person: a mother, a teacher, and a breeder and exhibitor of Standard Poodles. I began the series with what was meant to be a small, manageable, cast of continuing characters. There was Melanie, her young son, Davey, and her formidable Aunt Peg, the dog show doyenne whose dead husband and missing champion stud dog were the focus of A PEDIGREE TO DIE FOR, the series debut. Melanie and I have been together for sixteen books now and in that time, her entourage has grown exponentially. Not only that, but somewhere along the way I’m pretty sure that I lost control of her life.
A writer should start with a plan, right? An outline or synopsis would be great, but even the most disorganized among us can come up with a general idea of where the plot might reasonably be expected to go. And yet somehow, I’m always finding myself taking unanticipated detours. I’ve been writing these characters for years and the longer I know them, the less they feel inclined to listen to me. I’m pretty sure that there’s something wrong with that system.
In my new book, GONE WITH THE WOOF, Aunt Peg introduced me to a character whose existence I’d never previously suspected. And once she arrived on the scene, that new character quickly became integral to the plot. In other books, characters have gotten pregnant, quit jobs, and broken up relationships, all without my prior permission. And don’t even get me started on their penchant for road trips! These are all life—and series—changing events. So how is it that I never see them coming? And why can’t I do anything to rein those people in?
Each time I start a new book, I purposely introduce a handful of new characters whose problems and dramas will form the nucleus of that book’s plot. I fully expect those characters to do what they need to do, then go away quietly at the end. But often they refuse to do so. Even though I’m quite certain their roles are finished, they somehow manage to hang around and pop up again in later books. In this fashion, Melanie has gained a husband, a new sister-in-law, and a gay friend who makes me laugh every time he appears on the scene. For some reason, these characters are determined to be part of the series’ larger story. And faced with their firm resolve to remain involved in Melanie’s journey, how can I say no?
I have to confess there are times when I find this trend a little alarming. Especially on those occasions when my characters reveal unexpected tidbits of information that send the plot spinning in a whole different direction. How do they do that? How do they know what to say? I’d like to believe that it’s my subconscious mind at work but, sadly, I’m afraid that’s not what’s going on.
My characters are beginning to think for themselves.
Pretty soon they’ll hardly need me at all. I’ll simply be their scribe, the only person in the vicinity who has fingers to hit the keys. Thank God I have the opposable thumbs. Otherwise it might just be chaos around here.
Laurien Berenson is the author of twenty eight novels that have sold more than a million copies worldwide. Her current mystery series revolves around the world of dog shows, a mileu she knows well as her family has been involved in the sport of dogs for three generations. There are now sixteen Melanie Travis canine mysteries, the latest of which, GONE WITH THE WOOF, comes out this month.
Berenson is a four time winner of the Maxwell Award for Fiction from the Dog Writers Assoc. of America and a winner of the Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Award. She is also an Agatha and Macavity nominee. Her work has appeared in The New York Times as well as numerous magazines. She is a graduate of Vassar College, and she and her husband live on a farm in Kentucky, surrounded by horses and dogs.
Her website is www.laurienberenson.com and she loves making friends on Facebook.
Please come back Monday for Part 2 of "A Synergy of Image, Text, and Dogs" ~ see Part One here. And in the meantime, why not scroll back through some of the previous posts? August has been Dog Days, July focused (loosely) on history, and June was covered in cats! ~ Sheila