Thursday, January 2, 2014

Surprise – My Characters Don’t Always Agree with Me!

I've been telling stories in some form for quite a while, and it’s always interesting when writing flows down like a waterfall and other days when it trickles out, barely giving you a sentence from its metaphorical faucet. But, I think what’s even more interesting than having your story simmering on the edge of your subconscious, is when your characters finally do show up in the front of your brain, but now both of you are on, no pun intended, different pages. (OK, pun intended.)

Giving birth to a character, at least in my mind, means creating a living breathing type of entity that actually exists within you. Writers can be a little odd in that way, speaking to things that don’t exist and even loving the created characters. Without fail, any time I talk to an author about characters they generally confirm this awkward phenomenon. But as an author, what do you to do when you and your characters don’t agree about what’s happening in a scene?

In The Messengers, there is a scene where one of the characters is hurt during a mission. Immediately, my director mindset told me to “Cut to the final scene and just explain that the characters got back to home base safely.” However, what I wasn't ready for, was one of the other characters getting mad at me. I could clearly hear his voice in the back of my mind saying, “Why are you doing this? Why aren't you giving the readers a chance to see what we can do? That’s not fair!”

Believe it or not, this happened. So first I thought, OK I’m not going crazy. But then I said to myself (which means all my characters can hear) “OK, hotshot show me what you got.” And I opened my mind and let the story flow from this character’s perspective. Before I knew it, I had an action sequence that I simply loved – and honestly (don’t tell anyone) I don’t feel that I actually wrote. It was that character that wrote it, not me, not the conscious version of me anyway.

I've learned that when this phenomenon happens I can generally do one of four things:
  1. Ignore the Character – Which honestly is the worst thing to do. Doing this means the character will act in a way that is unnatural to them and readers later will hate me for this.
  2. Change the Character – I really hate this one. The problem with this method is that it means going back to the drawing board, or changing who they have been so far throughout the project. This can cause a lot of rewriting scenes that no longer make since and will affect the other characters' personalities. Also, I tend to get attached to my characters and don’t always want them changed. “But the project comes first,” I say with hopeful grin and clinched fist.
  3. Give the Character More Experiences – I don’t mind doing this. I find that showing more experiences enriches my enjoyment of being in the world and allows the character to have more depth to become the person I need them to be. Downside it can really make the book long :-(.
  4.  Let the Character Drive – This is something I must admit, I do a lot. I like to see what the character is going to do and watch them come alive. When I do this, it’s like I’m reading the book as it’s being written. The only problem with this method is if the characters aren't developed enough, then they can go off in La La Land.  Yeah, I had that happen a couple of times – editing anyone.

Honestly though when my characters disagree with me I’m generally happy at least in one cool way, the characters have a voice and a distinct one. A character that doesn't talk to me isn't real to me, and therefore I doubt they’ll be real to anyone else. I hope this helps anybody else who has to battle with their MCs and SCs. Thanks for reading.


  1. I am experiencing this in my writing. One character is evil at the beginning and refuses to do what I want him to do. When I try to write what is right, it comes off as fake and ruins his personality. I guess I should allow my character to run the show and see what happens his way.

    1. Either that or you guys need to have a nice talk about what the character needs to change. Do you have ideas to make the character turn good?

  2. Yup,
    I've had scenes where I simply stand back and watch as the actors on stage take over the scene. As long as it's moving the story forward in the general direction it needs to travel, I'm happy to let them drive. Most times, my little rebels create strong scenes without my heavy-handed help.

    1. Cool! I think that's when you know your characters are truly alive!