Writing Tips

When to Stop Pushing

I have a problem – and the first step is admitting it, right? I push my characters too hard to be what I want them to be. I feel like this isn’t just my problem – many authors/writers have this problem when it comes to endings. When I sit down to plan a novel, or even if I just have an idea, I usually have some idea of how it’s going to end – who’s going to end up with who, etc. By the time I get to the end, however, my characters aren’t always the same as I envisioned them back at the beginning, and that puts a crink in my plans.

The great thing about writing is that stories and characters often take on a life of their own and go in unexpected directions. This is what makes writing fun. However, it can be difficult for a writer to stop pushing their characters to be what they’re not. If I have decided at the beginning of a novel that I want such and such characters to end up together, that’s what I want, and often, I’ll do anything to make it happen. This becomes a problem when the characters evolve in different directions and the ending you want then becomes forced and unrealistic.

I am not the only one with this problem – I know this for a fact. If anyone watches “How I Met Your Mother,” you know this problem well. I don’t watch the show, but so many fans were disappointed by the ending that I went and looked up what happened. Spoiler alert in case you haven’t seen the finale! What the writers did was forced an ending they wanted and thought would happen years ago, and because of complications with filming, they had to go that route. Unfortunately for them, their characters had evolved far beyond what they’d imagined to a point where the original ending was unsatisfying and downright insulting to the characters themselves. They took back all of Barney’s character development and forced a relationship that never really worked in the first place.

Along with TV shows, novels have the same problems: the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is another example of an author forcing an ending where it may not have been the most appropriate. It’s what happens when you plan out the ending before you finish writing. You become attached to the ideas of certain couples and certain things happening, and when it comes time to let it go, you can’t. You cling to your original ideas and put them in anyway.

So how do you stop pushing your characters to be or do something they’re not? You, the writer, has to learn to let go and see the characters as actual people. If they were real, would they do that? Would they end up with that person? After everything that happened over the course of the story, did they learn something that makes your original ending unrealistic? You have to learn from your characters and let them tell you how their story will end.

It sounds a little strange, and some people say that they don’t “listen” to fictional characters, but a story speaks for itself and will develop in unexpected ways. As a writer, it’s our job to see those changes and understand that we must change as well. You do control your universe, but things happen that you may not expect, and you can either unwrite them or let nature take its course to create a great story – maybe not with the ending you wanted, but one that is fulfilling and good nonetheless.

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One thought on “When to Stop Pushing

  1. I had to do this with my own WIP. I put in a romance that I loved writing at first…but reading it back, I was like “ugh…this doesn’t work.” All of my beta readers were equally unamused with the pairing. So it’s being cut. It’s hard to do, as I had imagined those characters having chemistry for years, but that’s part of writing. Everything evolves.

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