A Life in Pages by Miko Johnston

FROM SCREEN TO PAGE, Part 3 with Miko JohnstonMiko Johnston is the author of A Petal in the Wind and the newly released A Petal in the Wind II: Lala Hafstein.

She first first contemplated a writing career as a poet at age six. That notion ended four years later when she found no ‘help wanted’ ads for poets in the Sunday NY Times classified section, but her desire to write persisted. After graduating from NY University, she headed west to pursue a career as a journalist before switching to fiction. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. You can find out more about her books and follow her for her latest releases at Amazon.

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Please excuse me while I wipe tears from my eyes. Someone very dear to me has died. Or to put it more accurately, I had to kill someone very dear to me.

Now before you dial 911, let me explain that the person I killed was one of my characters, someone beloved by my other characters as well as my readers. It was difficult, but necessary. My continuing saga would not have the same impact, nor would the surviving characters develop as they must, if this character were allowed to live. As Star Trek Commander Spock famously said, “Logic dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”.

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I also needed to do this to prepare myself for what will be coming. My historical fiction
series revolves around a Jewish family living in what is now the Czech Republic. I’m working on the third book, set during World War I, but the final installment will take place after the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia. As you may surmise, this will not bode well for some of the characters.

Although my story is loosely based on my family history – my maternal grandparents endured pogroms in Russia and Poland, and my father survived the Holocaust – it has been suggested that my characters could escape prior to the invasion and make their way to America, thus sparing their lives. After all, I’m writing fiction. I can change it at will.

But can I? I think not, because when you’ve been involved with a story for over twenty years, it takes on a life of its own. I wish I could change their destiny, but it would ring false to me. Early on I made decisions about the characters: who they were, what they would do, and to an extent, how they would develop over time. However, after awhile some of them began to make decisions on their own. Most were simple and minor – a preference for a particular color or beverage – but one unexpected action taken by two of my characters resulted in converting my trilogy into a ‘quadrogy’.

In a sense, I gave birth to these characters. Early on I guided them, taught them, made sure they were always where they were supposed to be. Now they have a life of their own, and I must respect that. Within reason. I still have final edit. But I can’t ignore their wishes and directives, no matter what I, or some readers, may think. Why? As Captain Kirk observed, “Because the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many.”

When you create your fictitious world, is it set in stone, or do you change it at will? Have you ever found yourself letting your characters decide where they’re going and what they’re going to do? Or do you maintain full control over them?

8 thoughts on “A Life in Pages by Miko Johnston”

  1. Great insights into writers and “our characters.” Yes, as you say, you created them, they have a life of their own, but you have the final say. And then, as you also say, our characters can have a destiny! Hard to reconcile a writers feelings toward our characters and all those realities and constraints. And I would think, especially in a historical fiction saga.

    Fortunately for me, in my standalones, I can leave many future unknowns. I like that. (so far, I have only killed off bad guys)

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    1. Having written several mystery and thriller short stories, I’ve killed off characters before, but none bothered me as much as this one. I’d grown very attached to this character. The death also brought up memories of personal losses. I can only hope that I’ve imbued the scene with realistic emotions that readers will relate to.

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  2. I am biting my nails to learn who will “bite the dust” in your upcoming 3rd book in the series. It will be sad (maybe), but I know you will write it to the betterment of the story. More drama, realism, angst; whatever, we look forward to it.
    Thanks for the warning.

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    1. Thank you, Jackie. I did that purposely to show how important it is to balance the sadness of loss with a little humor. Even my characters share a laugh while in mourning, which provides a momentary respite from grief.

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  3. Darn it, Miko, now I’m all worried about which character we’re going to lose. Having read the first two books, I’ve become invested in a lot of them. Guess I’ll just have to wait for Book 3 to find out.

    I, too, have had some characters make unexpected decisions and do things I didn’t see coming. One character tried to take over the storyline, in fact; I had to wrestle it back from him because it did not serve this particular book.

    Great post!

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