Thursday, December 11, 2014

How My Character's Character Can Direct My Stories

Have you ever noticed that a character in one of your stories has completely changed the direction of the tale? Mine do it frequently.

I’m a pantser, so I usually do very little plotting before I leap into writing a novel or novella. I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. Ideally, stick with what method works best for you. What I have noticed, however, is how things sometimes can change quite unexpectedly. Does this ever happen to plotters?

I first noticed it when I wrote The Queen’s Pawn. The queen in the tale was originally designed and written as somewhat scatter-brained. As I got into the story, she changed. In fact, she turned out to be quite a strong individual. That might not have happened to me if I had spent hours plotting the story and the characters fully in advance, but it made complete sense in the context of what I wrote. I had to then develop a backstory that told why she acted that way, adding depth to the tale. I had to figure out what motivated her. The same thing happened to a lesser degree to her bratty daughter. Why did she behave the way she did? The insight into the characters I gained changed the direction of the story. When I started writing the sequel, my knowledge of these and the other characters affected the plot line.

To a degree, the same thing happened when I looked to do a sequel for The Dark Lady. By the end of the first book I had wrapped up the plot to my satisfaction, put most of the villainy in its place. When I was asked to expand the story, I had to consider what might happen next. While there was much nastiness still afoot, I realized that a minor character in book one would make a great major protagonist. Thinking of how that individual would react, gave me the background plot for the next two volumes of the trilogy.

I suppose I could do a lot of plotting before I begin, but I’m too impatient. I often enter a scene not knowing exactly how it will turn out. My knowledge of the characters, how they would react, or what they might say, will often govern the end result. That might even change where I originally planned to go with the tale.

I guess a lot of my writing is often a co-operative affair, with me shoving the story in one direction, and the characters throwing road-blocks in my way. Fortunately, some characters are quite happy to toe the mark and do what I tell them. It’s the rebels in the crowd who make writing more interesting for me.

I had just finished writing this essay, when it happened again. I was writing a scene between two characters having an argument. One decided to reveal something I hadn’t planned to bring up. That throws a new wrinkle into my plot. I may just let the characters solve it themselves. After all, they started it.

Do plotters have this problem, if it is a problem, or does their tale always run true from start to finish?

Struggling writers are curious to know.


The Novels:
The Dark Lady Trilogy
The Queen’s Pawn
The Novellas:
Knight’s Bridge
The Housetrap Chronicles (six…so far)



Julie Eberhart Painter said...

My characters are much more imaginative than I am. Lead on, MAcTough

Ron said...

I guess it certainly helps to make writing more interesting.

I'm never quite sure what is going to happen next.

Liz Fountain said...

I love it when characters take over. Pure joy.

Anonymous said...

I remember my first release 20 stories ago (TAINTED HERO). My original plan was to kill off a secondary character but the deeper I got into her development, I just couldn't pull the trigger. In stead, she just encountered a survivable accident. Had that happen several times across my novels.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012