What to do with Wayward CharactersJuly 16, 2009 at 12:16 PM | Posted in Writing Advice | 8 Comments
You know the ones I mean. The ones who upend your carefully designed plotlines. The ones who go left when you want them to go right. The ones who go waltzing into more trouble than you wanted to deal with, insisting on complicating everything. Those lovely characters who seem to have minds of their own.
Well. In the grand scheme of things, I’ve found that there are really only two ways for scuffles with wayward characters to pan out. Allow me to demonstrate.
Author: Today, Character A and Character B are going to kiss in the funhouse.
Character A: But I don’t wanna! There are germs!
Author: Who cares? It’s Character B. You like him. Get over it.
Character B: I’m not in any sort of situation that’s compatible with a committed relationship!
Author: It’s Character A! You like her!
Character B: And as such I’ll wait until I’m not in such a sketchy situation before getting her all attached to me. What if I die?
Author: You’re not going to die.
Character B: You don’t know that. I might decide to jump off a cliff tomorrow.
Author: Don’t you dare!
Character B: See? You’re worried I might!
Author: Shut up! The creepy clown chased you into the funhouse, there’s plenty of sexual tension, there hasn’t been an exciting plot point in over two chapters, and you are going to kiss!
Character A: No! No! Nooooo!
This is not a good situation. It is often mistaken for a massive character rebellion that needs to be squelched at all costs. Sometimes it is thought to be Writer’s Block. As such, authors will frequently either let the story die a slow death in the Land of Unfinished Stories, or bulldoze onwards, dragging their wayward characters with them. When dragged, characters have a nasty habit of kicking, scratching, biting, and otherwise not coming across like the author would like.
Author: Today, Character A will go to school and meet Character B. *sets up love interest*
Character A: *walks to school, gets to front doors, and says* No. You know what? I’m skipping school and going to the beach!
Author: What?! But what about Character B?
Character A: Character B has big ears. I like Character C! *points to Character C, who is lounging on the beach*
Character A: You know what else? This beach is notorious for shark attacks! Write a scene where I rescue C from a shark!
Author: But you live inland. There’s no salt water for sharks.
Character A: Didn’t I tell you? I moved to Australia.
Character A: Yep. Happened last spring when my mom decided to get her doctorate in marine biology.
Author: Oh…Well…Okay…I guess…
This situation is vastly different from that in Option 1. It’s a much happier scenario. The difference? In Option 1, Author put up a fight. In Option 2, Author surrendered.
And so we come back to the original question: what do you do with wayward characters? Well, it’s quite simple, really.
Listen to them!
When your characters suddenly veer off the path you’ve so carefully laid out for them, there is usually a reason. For instance, in Option 1, Character A and B might have been trying to remind the author that kissing at that point in time would go against their pre-established character traits. They may have been trying to point out that while a kiss might have been perfect for the plot, it would be detrimental to their character development and the consistency and continuity of the story.
So, I’ll say it again: listen to your characters. They usually know what’s best for you, because the fact of the matter is, they do not have minds of their own. I know it may seem like it at times, when they’re keeping you awake at 3 AM, or absolutely refusing to move, but they are a product of your imagination (hopefully) and you only have your own mind to blame when they’re being uncooperative. So maybe – just maybe – the scenario in Option 1 is your subconscious mind’s way of trying to say, “Wake up, stupid! That’s a horrible idea! Now get it together and put the funhouse on the beach where the shark can eat the creepy clown!”
– Becca Cooper (AKA Elusive)