Who’s the Boss of Your Writing?


When I’m not writing or doing menial household labor (poorly), I am playing tennis. Strangely enough, what I learn on the court many times translates to my writing. One such lesson I learned the other day was this:

The ball is the boss.

My instructor noticed I seemed to be using the slice and the topspin groundstroke randomly, with no relation to how the ball was coming to me. This was true. Many times, I’d decide, before my opponent even returned the ball, that I was going to use a particular shot. If you’re a seasoned tennis player, however, you see the fault in this – you have to wait and see where and how the ball is coming to you to determine how you should hit it. So my instructor gave me this simple rule: if the ball is rising, hit a slice. If it is dropping, hit a topspin.
This translates to: The Ball is the Boss. Wait and see what the ball is doing and then react accordingly.
It also translates to Get Out of Your Own Head, Stupid!
In writing, this rule is: The Character is The Boss.
No matter how I want a certain thing to happen in my story or how well I plot out the story ahead of time, the character is the boss. If I stay in the character’s head (not in my own) I will write a truer story. My character will lead me to what would actually happen, not what I as the author think “should” happen.
It’s about being flexible, not getting ahead of things or forcing things, letting the plot or the shot work out organically.
It’s about shutting off your brain, trusting your instincts and letting go.

So here’s my question to all you writers: Who’s the boss of you?

Beverly Patt steps off the tennis court once in a while to serve up some middle grade and young adult fiction. 

Beverly Patt
  1. Glad to be of service;)

  2. Thanks for the great reminder, Beverly. A truer story always emerges, when it flows organically from the characters wants and needs. Now, to figure out what those are . . .

  3. I enjoyed the post, Beverly. I think there’s a lot of truth to it. I’m not a big outliner, but I always have an idea where I’d like my story to end up. But sometimes my characters throw me a curve ball and decide to go a different direction. They usually end up about where I thought they would, but not always. It’s fun and enlightening to let them have control in this way, and I’ve learned a lot about my characters by not keeping too tight a grip on them. Right now I’m in the middle of a sequel to my MG “A Smidgen of Sky,” and not quite sure where my characters are taking me. Your post was a good reminder to just relax and go along for the ride!