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Jim H.

What you said! Terrific post on the overrated place of character in fiction and the underappreciation of story.

One quick response to something you raised: this business of characters' autonomy. We know, too, Nabokov declared his characters were merely pawns for doing his business and he treated them ruthlessly. Both poles seem to miss the mark. If the writer claims the character is doing unexpected things, it merely means the writer's imagination is working. Full stop.

You have an outline, a plan, a plot for your novel; you write your character into it like a variable in a symbolic logic proof; and you expect the character to fall in line. And it doesn't. Now, either you didn't engage your imagination upfront and it's blossoming now—which, all things considered, is not always a bad thing (after all, imagination is a different process, psychologically, from rationality and important for the artist)—or you need to do some editing.

The important point here is: You're letting your stream of thoughts, your imagination, go—not your character. Claim it.

Lots of writers enjoy the freedom to let an imagined character have free rein. Call it discovery, exploration. But it is not yet art, pace Dewey. Indeed, it is not yet story—a theme we've been blogging over at Wisdom of the West. It's nothing but self-indulgence.

Other writers prefer to stick to a strict format, a minute outline. That way they can control the message (if you will). The art is in the planning and the craft is in carrying out the plan.

These are process issues, not substantive ones (and that is where the fallacy lies with the OnFiction crowd). Neither is inherently preferable, it seems to me: it is the outcome, the product, that counts.

Bottom line: Explore and revise your plan to include your imaginative discoveries or cut, edit, and stay on course. Just don't tell me I'm getting into the mind of a fictional character. As we've blogged so many times, fiction and fictional characters are "models of consciousness" and the key lies in the former term. It pays, as your post reminds us, never to forget we are dealing with artifices.

Jim H.

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