My dad was a bricklayer, and a blocklayer. He built foundations for houses and walls for schools and fire stations. He once asked the guy who owned the local concrete block manufacturing plant why he didn’t make a better block. (The ones he made were out of square, course, had chipped edges and corners, et cetera.) I’ll tell you what the guy’s reason in just a bit. First I want to tell you about a time when I shared this story with one of my architecture professors.
We’d been talking about declining product and construction quality and I started to tell him about the conversation between my dad and the block maker, but I misquoted. I said that my dad said, “Why do you make such a crappy block?” This was the way we talked about them out on the job. “Crappy”, exactly that. Because they were. But I backed up and said to my professor, “No. What he actually said was, ‘Why don’t you make a better block?'” My prof thought I was editing my dad’s words to make him sound more thoughtful, considerate, but I had to revise the quote to its proper syntax to set up the black maker’s response, which was, “Because I can sell all of theses that I can make.”
You see? He wouldn’t have been able to make that great come-back to “Why do you make such a crappy block?” It wouldn’t have made sense.
The same thing happens sometimes in character and scene development. Sometimes I’ll have to go back and fix one character’s word choice or action to set up another character for a better outcome. When I first started learning the craft, I heard about following the characters along to see what their story becomes, and that’s effective to a degree. But I am the creator and god of their world. “I am that I am,” and without me they wouldn’t be. I’ll give them their freewill as long as it suits the story, but I have to put the most important people first.
The story is about the characters but it belongs to me. I’m doing all the work. I’m giving birth to them. And it is hard work. At least it is for me. Writing is some of the hardest work I’ve ever done. It strains my brain. It wipes me out. I love it, but not because it’s easy.
Then there’s the dear, sweet and blessed reader. The reader always ranks above the writer and the characters. Without the reader there’d be no point in having a story.
Yes, interesting things come up in the course of a story coming to life, but all these things are coming from the writer’s mind with the reader’s pleasure at the forefront.