We all know that the Chinese character for “crisis” is composed of the characters for “danger” and “opportunity,” which is great except for the fact that it’s absolutely false. But I had a minor crisis in my writing last week that led to an amazing opportunity, so let’s pretend for now that it’s true.

You’ll hear all the time about how we Seat of the Pants Writers are totally disorganized, but leaving bits unplanned leads to incidences like this week, where my characters messed up their author in a little way, and the author made it pay off in spades.

If you’re sane, you’re yelling at the screen, “Jane, love, you wrote those characters.  They can’t do anything without you writing it.”

In a sense, yes, and in a sense, no. In order to keep my characters believable, they have to act within what I’ve told you about them already. My incredibly street-savvy martial artist isn’t going to walk down that dark alley no matter what good thing I have planned if she goes. She simply knows better. My international spy is not going to blindly sip that drink, and my holy angel isn’t going to do something God told him not to. If they did without explanation, you’d say my character wasn’t behaving believably.

Therefore, sometimes in order to behave believably, your character is going to do something you didn’t want him to.

Case in point:

In ♥My Book♥, the cellist of the string quartet (Josh) stutters. At a recording session, he can hear himself in the headphones, which renders him temporarily fluent. This is a documented effect called “choral speaking” and it’s the basis behind devices like the SpeechEasy, which operate on delayed auditory feedback and help some stutterers speak fluently.

Much fun ensues, as Josh makes it his goal to say his name five hundred times during the recording session.They’re all joking around. Josh ends up explaining the choral speech effect.

And then Harrison, the first violinist, for whom money is not a problem, offers to buy Josh a SpeechEasy.

This was not in my plot! This was not something I had planned, and it was most assuredly not in the best interests of the story. But it was absolutely something Harrison (straightforward and generous) would do. I couldn’t leave it out, or readers would say, “Harrison, you jerk, cough up the five grand for the device!” It would never occur to Harrison not to offer this.


I went to the web and researched this device, all the pros and cons. The first group of “cons” I found were all related to the price, which unfortunately was no longer an issue. So I kept looking until I found an informative post online which outlined reasons why someone would turn it down even if it were free.

Two items on the list have direct connections to Josh. He can honestly say he doesn’t want it and give reasons.

And…the dynamic between Josh and Harrison was something I intended to highlight in this scene anyhow. The tension actually emerges better this way.


This is why I eschew overplanning (and why I enjoy words like “eschew”) and why taking the easy way out would have short-changed both the characters and the story itself, not to mention the readers. Harrison got to be Harrison, and Josh got to be Josh, and I got to keep my story in line. In the end, we all win except for the poor misunderstood Chinese character for crisis.


  1. whiskers

    One of my biggest pet peeves is looking at a character in a book or a movie and thinking, “yeah, he/she wouldn’t have done that…”

    Good for you, for letting your characters speak for themselves.

  2. Ivy

    I’m confused why a device like that would cost so much. If it’s happening in a recording studio, then it sounds like what happens when I’m podcasting; I can hear myself as I’m speaking. There are devices on the market that traveling podcasters use that do the same thing for a few hundred dollars. I recall one group podcasting during breaks on a long cycling trip with a device about the size of a tape player–might have been an iRiver. A SpeechEasy would be a downgrade from that, because it wouldn’t need to store a lot of audio, nor would it need the ability to connect to a PC to transfer files.

    I’m going to plug my PC headset into my Creative and see if I can get the same trick going.

  3. philangelus

    I think it costs between four and five grand for a few reasons, from what I’ve read.

    1) it’s calibrated to the individual using it
    2) it’s small and molded to the person’s ear
    3) there’s a PATENT on it and the patent-holders are intent on wringing as much $$$$$$$$$ from their patent as they can before it expires. I guess they figure if they’re the only game in town, they can write the rules to benefit themselves.

    There are software programs that do the same thing and are cheaper, but then it only works when you’re at your computer.

  4. Ivy

    Ah, not technical complexity but corporate greed. From a technical level, it doesn’t sound like all that. Record a sound and play it back with a tiny preset delay. It needs maybe a second of recording space and a mike with a really limited range. So something like a bluetooth earpiece that feeds the sound from the microphone right back to the earphone.

    I have to wonder if that software isn’t already out for smartphones or the iPhone. The battery life is there already on those devices. The hardware is more than capable of handling that kind of task. Seems like an obvious platform.

  5. philangelus

    It also distorts the sound a little bit, so it’s not a straight playback.

  6. Ivy

    Then how would a recording studio replicate the effect?

  7. Cricket

    Sounds like your sounding board is as challenging (as in, pointing out opportunities) as your characters! Will be a good book.

  8. philangelus

    The device distorts the sound a little. The recording studio doesn’t have to in order to recreate the effect. It’s that PATENT thing again. 😉

    Cricket, I hope it’ll be good. These guys feel and act real to me, so I’m hopeful. Thanks!

  9. Ivy

    So if it works without it, it’s not a required feature. The required features mimic the recording studio situation–accept sound into a microphone and transmit it to the earphone. An iPhone, a PDA, or a smartphone could do that easily. And it would be cheaper. And the user would have a perfectly usable iPhone/PDA/smartphone to boot.

  10. Ivy

    Doing some digging, it looks like it’s already available for the PDA