Handing Over the Reins: Entering The Strange World of Fiction Writing

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A Catalogue of Books by Patricia Allison.

Memory Is The Seamstress. By Dean Robertson and Alison Daniels, writing as Patricia Allison. Available on Amazon.



Fortune’s End. By Alison Daniels, writing as Patricia Allison. Available on Amazon.



Jessie:The Adventures and Insights
of a Nineteenth-Century Woman.
By Dean Robertson, writing as Patricia Allison.
Available soon on Amazon.


Untitled Murder Mystery. By Alison Daniels and Dean Robertson, writing as Patricia Allison. Available not quite as soon–but soon–on Amazon.


I wrote at length back in April of this year about the experience of co-authoring a book with a friend. Much of that post concerned the conflicts between us over what I suppose now were inevitable concerns like ideas about characters and general approaches to writing.  We did survive the whole process, as chronicled in two later blogs, one by each of us. And, although we are already outlining our next book together, we both started right away on solo projects. Alison’s started with an old two hundred page manuscript that required considerable editing and rewriting. It has been published. Mine started with a blank page and the need for substantial research and for a while was moving slowly. Today I find myself two chapters away from having it ready for a final proofreading.

That apparently irrelevant bit of writing history serves as prologue to  discoveries I am making in my very brief career as a writer of fiction. The first is disorienting for me and an inconvenience for the people in my life. The minute I create the first character and that character begins to speak and to act, I find myself edging away from the details of my daily life.

As the pages fill and the hours add up, as the characters take shape and begin to exist outside the edges of my imagination, as I become focused on the next word, the next sentence, as The Plot Thickens, I forget to make important phone calls, miss appointments, ignore baskets of unwashed laundry and the tops of tables coated with dust. I let calls from friends go to Voice Mail.  I turn off the ringer on my phone.

The second discovery, perhaps better called a bolt of lightning, affects for the most part only me.  This revelation, visited upon me after only a few chapters, is that I lose control of the characters I have created. These creatures of my imagination, these products of considerable effort and thought, these well-planned and meticulously conceived characters are entirely in charge of what they say and what they do. Possibly most alarming of all is that they are also in control of what they think and what they feel.

This morning’s experience is a good example of the fallout from this Characters-at-the-Wheel situation. I was writing along in a chapter I had thought about, plotted out in my mind, and from which I expected no surprises.  In a Heartbeat, In a New York Minute, Out of Left Field,  I was typing a goodbye scene between two characters and what I wrote was so unbearably sad that I started to tear up, then to actually cry, and I finally had to stop typing because I had my face in my hands weeping.  I did get myself together after a Diet Coke and a tomato sandwich, and made it to the end of the chapter, serving now only as amanuensis for whoever was supervising the writing. I didn’t mind; I was still sniffling.

I have, of course, read endless statements by well-known authors describing this phenomenon, all saying about the same thing, “At some point the characters simply take on lives of their own.” I have considered these statements, frankly, to be nothing more than posturing.  It always is an intriguing thing to say–characters taking over a novel. Actual stories have been written on the subject. I think I remember this very tale on an episode of “TheTwilight Zone.”

But here I am, sobbing on my sofa because Jessie is leaving and doesn’t know how to tell Warren or, in fact, how she is to survive without his steady support.

And there you have it. The sad tale of an unknown writer of fiction, posturing with the best of them. Take that, John Grisham!

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6 Responses to "Handing Over the Reins: Entering The Strange World of Fiction Writing"
  1. Ellen Bunton says:

    I don’t have any fiction writing experience but on the other side I can definitely relate to getting really too involved with a character from a book or movie that becomes more real than my own friends. I know Rita Hayworth used to say ” Men want to go to bed with “Gilda”, but wake up with Rita Hayworth.”

    Now I have to go look up amanuensis!

  2. Ellen Bunton says:

    I have no experience writing fiction, however I have found myself getting way too involved in the “lives” of certain characters from books or film. Some part of me really thinks Tweety and Sylvester are REAL! Now I’m going to look up amanuensis!

  3. Mitzy says:

    I only read non fiction and let’s not get into the politics of that ; but you , Dean, are more adorable than Doris Kearns Goodwin . You could be addictive .

  4. Mary Clark says:

    Here’s what comes to mind, Dean, hearing your involvement with your characters. It’s a clip from the movie Something’s Got To Give. Watch it all the way through. Reminded me of what you wrote above!

  5. Lisa Wayman says:

    I’ve gotten lost in a character too. When I wrote my book I would get up in the middle of the night to write. My husband would say ‘where are you going’ and I’d respond ‘I have to find out what happens. I love how after I write a book I feel like I have lived someone else’s life.

  6. javsimson says:

    This is SO great, Dean. I’m amazed at what you’re doing. Sorry I’m so late to respond. My email box, like my life, is overflowing with details I don’t seem to find time to address.

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