Book Magic Series: Stranger Than Fiction

sflgI didn’t really like the movie Stranger Than Fiction. Maybe because I’ve never been a fan of Will Ferrell. Or maybe because his character was, unlike my characters, deprived of free will.

In case you have no idea what I’m talking about, the movie is about a (rather boring) man who discovers he’s the main character in a book being written by an author who always kills her main characters. He tries to have a less boring life and to convince her not to kill him. He only really succeeds at one of these.

He discovers that he’s in a book by being able to hear the omniscient narrator saying stuff like “little did he know” and describing his actions. (And thoughts, I think. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it.) By contrast, my characters can’t hear what the Narrator says unless he appears to them as a character. His running commentary is only visible to the reader.

But the main comparison I want to make is the relationship between the character and the author. In Stranger Than Fiction, the book takes place in the same world as the author. It’d be like me writing about you — and unless I’m mistaken, I don’t think I could pick up the book next to me and see you in it.

And her characters have no free will, they are completely at the mercy of the author. If she writes that they jump off a building, they have to comply. Unfortunately for Will Ferrell, his author is determined to finish her story and kill him — and in fact spends most of the movie trying to figure out the best way to do so. (And she’d have managed it if not for a really terrible example of deus ex machina.)

My main characters, on the other hand, are able to fight back. The author and narrator can manipulate the elements around them and control the minor characters, but they can’t dictate what Calder will say or do next.

Otherwise there wouldn’t be much of a story.

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

How I Broke My Novel (and then fixed it)

Broken Book

When I tell people I broke my novel, the most common reaction I get is: Huh? How do you break a novel?

Easily, it turns out. One of my characters was kind of cool. She was from Eustace’s past, and she had the power to see a person’s destiny. But when she looked at Calder, his destiny was muddled because of the fight between the narrator and the author. And I thought that was just awesome.

But then I started following her down paths I hadn’t anticipated. Saydie was (understandably) jealous of her — which set up a character arc I didn’t find interesting in the slightest. Eustace had trouble dealing with her because of that past issue I mentioned — I didn’t want to give that secret away yet, but Eustace was too angry and frightened to make holding his tongue believable.

Calder was the worst of the three. He started acting like Jack from Lost — and every single fan of Lost I know hates Jack with a fiery passion. You think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. When he started yelling for the cool character to tell him his destiny (just like Jack did in one terrible episode), I realized something was very very wrong.

But this was the story, darn it! I pushed forward. I made it as far as the next scene, when the minstrels showed up. (Yup, I saw a chance to throw them in for a short cameo. I really should stop doing that.)

I decided this cool character had to go. She was dragging down my characters and my plot. She could keep her interaction with Eustace in the past, but she wouldn’t be allowed anywhere in the current story. Then I spent an unexpected snow day rewinding the story until right before that character showed up, and figuring out where to take the plot instead.

(If you’re curious, that involved writing down where my characters were emotionally/mentally and then brainstorming how to get them from Point A to Point B. Literally, I mean, since I needed to get them from an inn to a castle.)

Anyway, I’d lost almost a full weekend of writing, unfortunately, but I managed to make up most of that in a day because the words practically flew off the page. Er, screen. I think I came up with a decent replacement for the cool character’s arc, but only time will tell.

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

Do Characters Have Secret Lives?


Sylvia: Wait, Austen meant Charlotte to be gay, or Charlotte is gay and Austen is not aware of it.

Bernadette: I just love the idea of a character having a secret life that the author doesn’t even know about.


Thinking about Jane Austen Book Club the other day, I remembered this scene. One of the characters thinks Charlotte Lucas, from the ever popular Pride and Prejudice, is gay because she tells Lizzy that she’s not as “romantic” as she is. Obviously, this raises some questions.

Can characters have secret lives separate from their authors’ wishes and intents? I know many fanfiction writers believe so. Just look at the number of Harry/Draco fics that exist.

But I’m not talking about Alternate Universe scenarios, or wishful thinking. If a character’s secret life fits within the context of the original novel, does that mean it could exist? That it does exist? Or is the text itself the final word?

And even if it is possible, is it right to usurp the author (especially when they can no longer defend their work, like Austen) by deciding for them if a character has a secret life?

I think it’s an interesting idea to have characters hiding things from their authors, though I’m not sure how I would feel if I were to find out ten years from now that Pennington is Saydie’s father or whatever. That would definitely put a new light on their relationship.

I put these questions to you. Do you think characters have secret lives?

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.