A funny thing happened to me this afternoon. I was drafting a short story for 42-Worcester, a local spoken word event focusing on the ghoulish and the speculative end of fiction. It’s an event I go along to quite often but very rarely perform at, because I tend to write novel length frothy romance, which wouldn’t quite be ideal to read aloud in a ten minute slot at a sci-fi and horror night.
Anyhoo, next month I’m down to perform and I was whipping together a little ghostly delight to share with the group; I alighted on the idea of writing about the ghosts of Worcester Cathedral focusing on Prince Arthur, the elder brother of Henry VIII, who is buried in Worcester. All was going swimmingly until the ghostly Arthur struck up a conversation with the even more longevitously deceased King John, and the dead twelfth century monarch starting talking like a 1990s rap wannabe.
“Wassup bro?” he said. This startled me somewhat, not simply because that’s a teeny bit anachronistic for a man of regal birth who died in 1216, but also because I had no idea he was going to say it, and still have absolutely no clue why he did. That is very very wrong. Ghost King John is fictional. He exists only inside my head. He should not say things if I don’t know why he’s saying them.
There is with writing, as with pretty much all creative endeavours, a sweet spot, where you get into a groove and the words just flow without very much conscious thought. It’s a beautiful and liberating thing. It happens, for me at least, for about five thousand words of an eighty thousand word book. The rest is sheer effort, but you stick with it in hope of alighting upon another few hundred words of magic carefree writing bliss.
King John going all street was beyond that though. This was a line that I typed with my own typing fingers which are attached to my typing arms which are attached to my shoulders which are attached to my neck which is attached to my head, which puports to contain my brain, and as soon as I’d typed them my brain yelled, “What?”
Ghost King John had properly gone rogue, beyond the control of his author. There are reasons history remembers him as Bad King John, and I’m increasingly convinced that an unwillingness to conform to his designated character arc is probably one of them. Bad Bad Fictional Ghost King John.
So that was weird. I mean, it’s totally fine. I can just go back and delete him. That’ll show him who’s in charge around here, but it leads me to a question for the writers out there – what do you do when a character goes rogue? Go along with it for the ride, or briskly reign them back onto the plan?