Characters Taking Over

I sat at Starbucks, trying to write even though Oprah was behind me, watching my every move.

She’s scary. And marvelously photoshopped.

I’m writing a novel with a pre-teen protagonist…no, it’s not young adult…no, it’s not fantasy fiction…

These girls look an awful lot like the sister in my novel! Crazy.
These girls look an awful lot like the sister in my novel! Crazy.

I got to the point in my story where my protagonist meets a man in a field. All that was supposed to happen was the man planting a seed of information…just a tiny nugget that would push the plot forward.

Instead, he revealed a plot twist.

Without permission, mind you.

And it’s a doozy of a twist. My readers won’t see it coming (I hope).

And this not-even-secondary character decided to bust in and reveal it.

I guess he was tired of me sitting on the secret. He thought it was time for it to come to light. I’m pretty glad he did. I had no idea how to smash-bang it into the story.

It had to be this guy. I know that now.


Often, when you read a novel, it’s hard to imagine that the author wrote some parts without know what the hee haw was going to happen. Yeah. He or she may have outlined and made copious notes. But. But. There are always moments that take the writer by surprise.

There is nothing like that.

What I’m about to say is going to sound a bit strange (only if you aren’t a fiction writer). But what I’m about to say is true. And one of the beautiful things about writing novels…

The characters get to have their say.

If they want to cross the room and look into the mirror for a minute, I let them. If they want to bust my plans, I allow it. If they want to be big fat liars that cheat to get their way, all righty tighty.

If it doesn’t work, then, well, I edit it out or clean it up.

If you’ve read Paint Chips, you might remember when Promise is pushing the baby stroller, trying to get away from Taz (her pimp). He’s being awful, abusive, and threatening. As I wrote that scene, Grace (the sailor-mouthed roommate of Dot) kept saying, “Let me at him…let me just get him…I don’t care if I go back to jail…” So. I let Grace go. I let her take over the scene for a bit. And it turned out to be a better scene for it.

If you’ve read My Mother’s Chamomile, you may recall the scene at the end when Olga’s leaving her home for the last time. I’d intended for her to just leave. Shut the door and be done. But she asked, very sweetly (of course) for a minute to take one last walk around the rooms, empty as they were. That ended up being a remarkably moving scene to write. I’ll admit, I wept as I typed it.

Now, I’m not going to get into the psychological aspects of letting a character take over (it’s actually a character that is part of my subconscious or blah, blah, blah…). But I am going to tell you this…when I allow my characters to assert their will, I end up with a better novel than I ever would have put together by myself.



7 Comments on “Characters Taking Over

  1. I wonder if the Author and Perfector of our Faith feels the same way and that’s why He gives us free will, free reign over our lives, because it makes for a better story.


  2. 1) that picture with Oprah looking over your shoulder is
    2) I completely understand about character-take-overs. 🙂


  3. I know what you’re talking about. I wrote a fantasy story last year based on the Absalom story from the Old Testament. David is a major player in the story but I planned my focus to be Absalom. David insisted the story was about him. I think he and Absalom ended up with equal page time and the title? “Good King David” Listen to your characters. They’re usually right.


    • Hi, there, Jeff! “Good King David” sounds interesting. And, I’m not surprised David got his way. He had a track record of that, right?


  4. I’m always delighted when I character reveals something about themselves that I never planned or imagined – what a tremendous gift!


So...What Do YOU Think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: