Characters and the Things They Do

Ann H Gabhart Ann's Posts, One Writer's Journal

Hi everybody. I’m a little early this weekend, but Sunday promises to be busy. Besides catching up my blog is a good excuse not to be peeling apples the way I should be doing. That wind last weekend blew bushels off my trees. I sneaked over to my neighbor’s house and left a box full on her porch. I’m thinking about finding somebody else to give another bushel to. Then I can get back to figuring out how I’m going to get the rest of them picked and canned or given away. They’re nice apples and we’ve been eating them fast as we can. Us and the deer. My mama deer has started to feel so at home out in my yard now that she just looks irritated if I come outside before she’s through eating. She’ll run away if I insist, but she doesn’t really want to. That bodes ill for her when hunting season starts. Not from me, but from some hunter in the area.

But in spite of the deer’s appetite – and my dog, Dub, eats them too – there are still a lot of apples left. I’m hoping no more near hurricane force winds come along to knock them off before I can get some of them picked.

I talked to a bookclub in Washington state last night. They were just getting started with their bookclub and were having their second meeting. I have always wanted to be part of a bookclub, but now I’m not sure I’d have time to get the books read before the meetings. Still what could be more fun than reading a book and then talking about it with other readers? My sisters and Mom and I do that sometimes. We don’t always agree on which books are best, but it’s fun talking about the different ones we read. My oldest sister has been keeping a list of the books she’s read for years. I started doing that a few years ago, but I wish I had done it forever the way she has just so I could keep up with what I’ve read. Lately I haven’t read enough fiction. A lot of history, but not so much fiction for the fun of it.

Stephen King says if you don’t read, you shouldn’t try to write. And I can’t argue with that. I tell the young wanna-be writers I meet that the best thing they can do to prepare themselves to write is read. I don’t think they believe me, but I know it was true for me. I’m thankful for the years when I was a teen and had extra reading time to let the words of other writers bury themselves in my brain while I absorbed how they managed to put together those words to make a story that entranced me. I am going to carve out more reading time somehow. I need those fresh words of other writers to keep my own writing fresh.

What I’m really wanting to write about tonight is one of the questions a bookclub member asked me last night. She wanted to know why one of the characters in my book, The Outsider, had done what she did. Why I let what happened to the character happen. That’s a good question. I’m sure if you’ve read very many books, you’ve read a story where the character did something you didn’t like. I certainly have. I’ve read books where I wanted to tear out the last chapter because I wanted a different ending. But as long as the author can make me believe that yes, that is what happened whether I like it or not, I’m okay with it. And that’s what I try to do with my stories. The Outsider is set in 1812. Life was different then. Fevers were deadly. Women had few options for independent living. Most religions had strict moral codes. War was as much a struggle against the elements as against the enemy. I wanted to keep my characters within the history of the era.

But the real truth of why any of my characters do whatever they do is because that’s just what they do. When I’m writing, the characters’ lives unfold in my mind. At times I point them in this or that direction, but once I get them going along my story road, sometimes I’m simply along for the ride. I might have a general idea of where they’re headed. Especially my historical books like The Outsider where I must fit my story into a history timeline. But I didn’t have that with my Hollyhill books. Story ideas developed through Jocie and the other characters as I wrote. I didn’t plan Wes saying he was from Jupiter until he said so. I didn’t plan Aunt Love’s story until I was writing it. So far my characters have come to life enough in my head that I’ve been able to do that. That’s not to say I don’t do a little guiding as I go along to keep from getting completely off track with my story. I suppose it’s a delicate balance letting your characters tell you their stories and letting them take over your story. And you know, after I wrote that sentence, I’m not sure which way is best. What do you think?

Of course, every writer has his or her own method and way to write. What works for one might not work for another. And if I had wanted to, I could have told Wes that saying he was from Jupiter was just too crazy, but the story wouldn’t have been as much fun and you wouldn’t have gotten to know Wes nearly as well if I’d done that. And what happens in The Outsider fits the time and the history and the characters. I hope I was able to make any of you who may have read it believe that. That’s the real trick – to make up a story that readers believe.

I’m available to talk to bookclubs anytime, so if you pick one of my books to read and would like me to give your club a call during your meeting, just contact me from my website,

Hope you have a great Sunday. I might tell another Quartet Convention story on Wednesday.