Writing a novel is kind of like playing God. You’re in complete control of the universe of the story. You write it; it happens. Your characters are entirely subject to your will.
At the same time, though, the characters also have self-determination. If they’re fleshed out and three-dimensional, they start to make their own decisions, and every choice they make in the story flows naturally from who they are. They do what they do, because they wouldn’t be themselves if they did anything else. Yes, you’re in complete control of the story, but in their own way, so are they.
This reminds me of the dichotomy between predestination and free will that is inherent in the idea of God. God is in control of everything, but at the same time we have free will to choose how we live our lives. It seems like it’s not possible for both to be true at the same time, but comparing it to writing makes it a little easier to understand. God is the author. The world is the story. We are the characters. We make our own decisions, but the author is still in complete command of everything that happens.
I’m sure this is a gross oversimplification, but I like the metaphor, and it helps me wrap my mind around an otherwise confusing concept. It also gives an extra feeling of nobility to the art of writing. If you’re the god of your characters, you’d better do your best to make their story the best it can be.