Sunday, December 26, 2010

Do Your Characters Dictate Your Story?

Some writers outline every detail of their story and follow it religiously. Others write whatever comes into their heads as their fingers hit the keys. I’ve done it both ways, though I must say I prefer the latter.

But my question remains the same. Have you ever experienced a character who insinuates themselves into your story or takes the story in another direction than what you had planned?

I certainly have. And I think it’s a cool phenomenon.

In one of my earlier fantasies I had a villain cornered in a cave. Soldiers, with weapons, were advancing on him from one side and wizards, armed with magic, had him covered on the other. He had no escape (as far as I knew). Then lo and behold he moved a rock in the cave, flipped a lever and a rocket type machine rose from the cave floor. He climbed aboard, flicked a switch and roared out of the cave above the good guys’ heads and escaped through the sky.

Nope, that wasn’t planned. It just happened. He wasn’t ready to be captured because he had more mischief to cause and more scenes to be in, only I didn’t know it at the time.

In a more recent contemporary novel my MC had no best friend. But a voice kept insisting she be in the story. She started off texting her, then calling her, then visiting her, until she wormed her way into the story as a full-fledged character. She was her best friend from her old hometown and her powerful voice made an awesome addition to the story.

That wasn’t planned either.

Another thing that characters do behind your back is change their behavior. Do you ever find that the characters you have drawn up don’t like the voice or personality that you have assigned to them?

Twice I have had characters change on me and wasn’t even aware the change was coming until I got to the climax of the story. In one instance, the MC’s best friend’s brother went from being a secondary character to being the actual villain.

And in another, an insignificant secondary character became an undercover agent for a secret organization and his role was all an act. He went from being a total jerk to being one of the good guys.

How that happens I’m not sure, but it even happens to me in picture books. A few months ago, I wrote a Halloween story about a cookie-loving vampire who had four monster friends, one of which was a girl skeleton. She was the least vocal in the original picture book. But that’s because she wanted out of the story and wished to be featured in a story of her own. Two weeks later, my focus went from the vampire to the skeleton and now I have a much stronger Halloween picture book ready to make submission rounds.

So tell me, do you have characters, who dictate their roles in your stories? I’d love to know some of your experiences with your characters.

Please leave your comments below. J

Oh, and here are some books I’d recommend for developing those outspoken characters.

45 Master Characters, Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters by Victoria Lynn Schmidt

Creating Character Emotions by Ann Hood

Breathing Life Into Your Characters by Rachel Ballon

And my favorite….

Bullies, Bastards and Bitches; How to Write the Bad Guys of Fiction by Jessica Page Morrell


  1. I usually have a general outline but then just write to see what happens!

  2. I like to write to see what happens. And when I've finished I find that it all comes together nicely. I guess I have a built-in outline in my brain. LOL!


Fall Frenzy Writing Contest 2020

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