It’s Not Always the Author’s Business.

When I write fiction, I’m more of a planner. Yet even I don’t know everything about the worlds or characters I create.

There are authors who do detailed character sketches and outlines of their settings. I do that sometimes, but not usually. And even when I do it, I don’t necessarily have a bunch of secrets tucked away about things that happened behind the scenes in my story, or before and after it.

Why not? Two reasons. The first is that the information may not be necessary for me to write the story. If I know enough to justify a trait or a decision, I know enough, I’d say.

The other reason I don’t know every single thing about my characters or stories, (and one that sometimes shocks people when I tell them) is that it isn’t always any of my business.

You haven’t misunderstood that sentence.

I used it at a writing group once a few years ago. Most of the members liked my story about two people that didn’t get along much, but nonetheless began flirting near the end of the story. The story ended without showing any romance between the two.

“So do they end up together?’ asked one of the readers.

“He may not want to reveal that,” said someone else.

I told them, “It’s not that it’s a secret. It’s that I don’t know. It’s none of my business, really.”

That got a strange look or two, but I think most of them understood.

For me, a story can be self contained. Meaning that I as an author see only a sliver of the entire lives of the people in it. I search the ether for these few moments or days or years within the universe I’ve written about, and I provide that story to the reader in words. Like any author, I decide a lot of what happens. But also like a lot of authors, I find that some things simply unfold on their own. It’s hard to explain to a non-writer, but every writer out there is bound to know what I mean. There are times when the story or at least a scene, suggests itself to the author, and our job is just to make sure we get it correct.

When I do get it correct at such moments, I tend not to overuse my author power. I could dictate what happens next in my mind, for my own satisfaction. I could decide that every blade of grass in every field of my universe has, is, and will forever do what I’ve determined. Yet for me, that’s too much in most cases. Just as in life when we pass through an experience, we don’t always know everything that comes before or after it, so is it with my stories. If the story was supposed to reveal a certain fact or action, I like to think I would have put it in there. But once it feels done, I sometimes only know a small percentage more of what lies beyond the edges than readers do. I think the story is more alive that way.

If I write a series, I of course have to know more. I also have to have a bit more of an idea about the past of the characters in a novel than I do in shorter fiction. Yet some of it remains a secret. More than that, it’s a secret what remains a secret; I don’t always tell readers if I know or if I don’t know.

What fun would that be?

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