I showed the picture below on my Facebook page a few days ago. I suppose that, unlike the witch on her broomstick, most of us think before we speak ninety-nine times out of a hundred. But I’m sure all of us have experienced that one hundredth time. It can cause embarrassment, pain, and guilt, not to mention the fervent wish that we could bite out our tongue. But the trouble with the spoken word is that it cannot be recalled once it is out there, not when there is someone to hear it anyway.
The written word can be just as fraught with danger and just as unforgiving in an age of constant texting, twittering, and firing off emails and comments on social media sites. In many case, though, we are far more likely when writing to think and ponder and choose our words with care and revise things before we send off the result for someone else’s eyes. This is especially true of the writer of stories and books. We can change our characters’ words and actions, even their thoughts, as often as we choose. If we don’t like something they say, we can simply erase it and get them to say what we want them to say. After all, we are their creator. They have no existence without us. We are in control. Right?
Well, yes–but also no! I know I am not unique in this–I talk to other writers and we often experience the same things. We may create our characters from nothing, but pretty soon they are separate beings with a will of their own, and they decide what they are going to say and do in the course of their story. This is why I find it impossible to plan a book ahead of time. And writing a synopsis? Forget it! I never know what is going to come out of my characters’ mouths when they begin to talk. I can set a conversation in motion and often do so as I love writing dialogue, but then I just sort of sit back and let them have at it. Often the conversation goes off in a direction I had not anticipated. And often what is said changes the course of the book and establishes a theme and a message I did not see coming.
In a book I recently finished writing, for example (it is not published yet), I had vaguely planned a relationship in which seduction and a brief affair and its consequences would lead to a deeper relationship and ultimate marriage. However, when I got my hero and heroine into conversation several times early in the book, each time obligingly putting them into invitingly private settings, would they cooperate? Not a bit of it! Before I knew it, my hero was blurting out an asinine marriage proposal and I had to decide whether to erase his words and order him back to a more serious seduction or let him have his way. But letting him have his way totally negated everything I had half planned for the remaining two-thirds of the book. I let him have his way! Sometimes when words have been spoken aloud, even within the pages of a book, they just have to be allowed to stand. The story must be changed instead.
A long time ago, when I was writing The Notorious Rake, a totally unimportant minor character, friend of Mary Gregg, the heroine, was warning her against the hero, Lord Edmond Waite, and asked her if she realized he had killed his mother and brother. I swear those words just appeared on the screen before my eyes. I had no idea she was about to say that. The words horrified me and terrified me. I think I felt as Pandora felt when she opened that forbidden box. Of course, I was more fortunate than Pandora–all I had to do to put matters right was delete the words and carry on with my story of a perfectly stereotypical rake who needed to be redeemed by the power of love. But I had the feeling that the friend must know something I didn’t, so I kept her words. And they turned out to be the key to the hero’s character and the whole story. Lord Edmond Waite is still one of my favorite, most complex heroes. Did he kill his mother and brother? Well, yes–and no…
The spoken word, it seems, has a power of its own whether the speaker is a real person or a fictional character. Who will ever forget the words Mr, Darcy spoke in his first marriage proposal to Elizabeth Bennet? Ouch!
To one person who leaves a comment below before the end of next Friday, November 8, I will send a copy of the two-in-one republication of A COUNTERFEIT BETROTHAL and THE NOTORIOUS RAKE. Last week’s winner of two Christmas books was Rhiannon Copper. She was unable to leave a comment on my web site and let me know on my Facebook page. I entered her name in the draw anyway, and by pure chance hers was the name that got drawn!