I’m sure every writer out there has had at least one experience with a character who just won’t behave. That one little imp from your brain who, regardless of how often you beat them with the plot ruler or how many times you tether them to the character arc chart, they will continue to pop up and toss your carefully layered story aside like a redneck wedding cake.
I’ve talked about this before; often going back to one of my favorite quotes from Stephen King – “The book is the boss,” often followed by the little tidbit from ‘Salem’s Lot (“Ben Mears wanted to be a hero… so I let him, and I have never been sorry.”) – but that still doesn’t salve the burn when your characters stand up and start doing things on their own that throw everything you had planned into a blender.
Of course, it’s kind of fun, too. Keeps things interesting. I find that I’m much more invested in my work when I haven’t the faintest bloody clue what’s coming next; I catch the same bug that most writers want to inflict on their readers, the “I Gotta” (again, to swipe a phrase from Mr. King); “I Gotta know how this chapter ends. I Gotta know if Bob will defeat the demon lord. I Gotta know if Sue is going to admit her feelings to Dan. I Gotta know how it comes out.”
Then there’s the flipside; when you finally get there and not only does it come out differently than you originally envisioned, it comes out in a way that you never would have wanted. Sure, you’re God to those little imps; can always go back and rewrite it. But I’ve found that doing so somehow cheapens it and the final product never comes out as good as what I wrote the first time, even if what I wrote wasn’t at all what I planned – or wanted – to write.
The worst example of it in my own work is probably Disciple of Grief; spoilers ahead, so you’ve been warned. Parker wasn’t meant to be the hero. He was supposed to die – and stay that way. Drakanis wasn’t supposed to be the villain; he wasn’t supposed to cave to the Beast’s offers. Damien wasn’t intended to die; for the sequel (which had always been partly in my head, even before I started writing Grief), he was supposed to be on cleanup detail. But somehow my protagonist decided “Hell with world saving, I want my family back.” My sidekick said “Uh, yeah, that’s not gonna stand. Somebody has to save the day!” And my mentor said “Guess I’m punching out early; sorry, folks.”
What about the rest of author-kind out there? What do you do when your characters start telling you how the story goes, instead of the other way around? Do you plug on and force them into the roles you first envisioned, or let them have their playtime (or go somewhere in between?) What’s your “worst sin” in this department? The time you wish you’d let it happen? Let us know in the magic box below!