Solution Saturday: My Characters Have Taken Over (HELP)


Starting to plan out a new novel is sort of like sitting down to plan a vacation. By the time you’re on your way to the airport (by the time you start writing), you’re convinced you have everything figured out. You know exactly when that plane’s going to take off and where it’s going to land. You know how you’re getting to your hotel and the first thing you’re going to do when you check in.

Everything’s all planned out, all the way through the moment you arrive back home.

Then you end up taking a detour on the way to the airport. Your flight’s delayed. It’s raining. The plane has to make an unexpected landing. You end up stranded on an island with only a volleyball as a friend and it all goes downhill from there.

Wait, what?

Let’s be real. Your novel never turns out the way you thought it would. Your characters are to blame, and there are only a few things you can do to cope.

“Sketch” them out

We’re talking writing here, not drawing, but if you want to try that too, go for it. If you’re starting to figure out your characters know more than you do – which is much more likely than most of us are willing to believe – take some time to “get to know” them. Free write about their strengths, weaknesses, childhood events, etc. (Not recommended during WriMos.) You’ll be surprised at how much truth comes out during this exercise. The best part is, you’ll probably be able to use most of it, even if you don’t end up pointing everything out to the reader directly.

You’re in on the secrets now. Mostly. It’s a good place to be, but don’t get too comfortable.

Trust no one

Your characters will turn on you and they will turn on each other. This is great for your story but not so safe for your sanity. Do you ever wonder how T.V. writers come up with all those great twists? THEY DON’T. Somehow, they just happen. The only explanation is that our characters are in more control of the plot than they’d like us to believe.

So expect the unexpected. Know that if you’re in the middle of writing a scene and all of a sudden someone is dead, it’s not your fault. All you can do is move forward.

Just go with it

The truth is, we can make all the plans and do as much outlining as we want (or not). But somehow, when we create a cast of characters, we’re signing an unwritten agreement. These characters develop minds of their own, and pretty quickly, they somehow manage to figure out better ways to tell their stories than you could have ever come up with on your own.

Sometimes you just have to sit back, take a deep breath and let your characters take you where they want to go. Don’t fight it. In the end, it really is better for your story, even if it’s the exact opposite of what you thought it would be.

Don’t be afraid. You are in good hands. Hopefully.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.