Sorry for the delay! This post was supposed to be published last Saturday, but I didn’t quite get it finished before I went gallivanting off to Linden, TN for their “Remembering WW2” event. I had a total blast though, and definitely plan to post about the reenactment in the near future!
They say all writers are a little crazy. And that they talk to imaginary people. They say, when you’re a writer, you don’t really get to choose your stories and characters. They choose you.
At least in my current project, my characters have had some very decided opinions that did not exactly jive with my own. In fact, we even disagreed emphatically on something as basic who exactly this story is really about!
What? Some of you are thinking. This whole book is being written about Fred and Lily, right? The story HAS to be theirs, doesn’t it?
Well yes. And no.
Yes, the story is about Fred and Lily. But no, the story is not EQUALLY about Fred and Lily. Somebody has to be the main character here. Somebody gets more of the spotlight, more time at the mic, than everyone else.
And according to me, that was supposed to be Freddie.
But Lily disagreed.
I started out to write about “an American soldier and the spunky little English girl he fell in love with.” This is easily demonstrated by the very first chapter, which is entirely about Freddie. My plan was to alternate the two character’s viewpoints, but that Fred would overall be in charge the story. That worked quite well….Until chapter two. That’s when I first handed Lily the mic.
And she wouldn’t let go of it.
Oh sure, she’d let Freddie say a few words here and there, when she didn’t have something more interesting to share, but almost invariably she’d take the stage again shortly thereafter. And that’s one of the reasons I finally had to call a time-out and reassess my outline for the story. Because I’d written an outline with Freddie as the main character, and the further into the story I got, the more insistent Lily became that SHE was the main character. With me planning the story one way, and Lily stubbornly telling it another way, we came to a point where I had to stop and figure out who exactly is going to be in charge here. Me, or Lily?
But not without a thorough assessment of the situation on my part. The more I thought it, the more I realized that it had really been her story all along. For several reasons. First, one of the rules of story telling is that the main character should always be the person who has the most at stake. And when you get down to it, Lily really does have more at stake here than Freddie. Not only is she going to have to choose between two men, but in doing so she is choosing between two very different lives, and, quite possibly, two entirely different countries.
Then there is the fact that good story-structure also makes her a better choice for main character, because of better opportunities for character arc. Particularly because her past gives more material for life-altering back-story. But if I told you much about that now, I’d be giving things away, wouldn’t I?
So now that I know who my main character is, I’m working on re-outlining the story with her character arc in mind. What exactly that means for what I’ve already written, I’m not sure yet. It might mean I have to completely re-think the first chapter. (Which I’m not happy about, because I love the one I already wrote.) But for now I’m basically sitting down and saying, “Alright, Lily. If this is your story, then tell me how it goes.”
And really, when stop to think about their personalities, it’s only natural that Lily should end up the main story-teller. I’m reminded of a video I watched of the two reminiscing in later years. Someone asked Freddie to tell a certain story from his years as a military airplane mechanic (a story I definitely plan to include in the book, by the way!). He’d hardly made any headway though, before Lily (who was not even present when the original adventure occurred) began interrupting to correct him on details and add commentary. Before they reached the conclusion of the story, LILY was the one telling it, and Freddie was just smiling and letting her do it.
As I replayed the video in my mind, suddenly everything clicked. Of course it happened like that. That’s who they WERE. Lily impulsive, excitable, and the center of attention, Fred patient and perfectly happy just to make everyone else happy.
It’s only natural then, that exactly the same thing would happen in my book. Despite my best intentions to let Freddie tell the story, as soon as Lily could get a word in edgewise she wasted no time taking over, adding her own special flare and becoming the main story-teller. Just as she would have done in real life.
And Freddie? Well, you know Freddie.
He just smiled…and let her do it.