Friday, September 21, 2007

Surprise! When Characters Throw You a Curve

Over the last two weeks, my coworkers have written interesting and important essays about characterization. Two have interviewed their fascinating characters, which, by the way, is a fantastic way to learn more about the characters in the book you’re writing. Interviewing or letting the character write a journal entry or bio tell you a lot about those slippery beings who inhabit a book. But even after all the preliminary work is done. After you think you know everything there is to know about a character, they still throw curves.

Personally, I think that’s the most fun part of writing.

There are those who think the writer has total control of the characters, and ultimately that’s true. You don’t have to let your characters have their way, but by holding them back you may keep your work from being as good as it could be — and you from getting as much enjoyment from your writing.

For example, the manuscript I’m working on right now includes a fight scene. As I was writing the scene, one of the characters suddenly pulled a sword. I sat back, looked at the words, and wondered what the heck I was going to do now. Do I give the other character (the hero) a sword too? Do I erase that last part and take the sword away? Ultimately, I let the villain have the sword, and figured out a way the hero could triumph unarmed. The scene ended up saying a lot more about the hero’s strength and compassion than it would have if written the way I’d originally envisioned it.

An older story involved an argument between two characters. It was supposed to be about one thing, but they took off on a tangent and argued about something else entirely. This one scene changed the direction of the whole story. And once I decided that was fine, I had fun figuring out where it was going now.

Yet another book was only wisps in my mind when I saw a Kia car I thought I’d like a character to drive. But it wasn’t long before my heroine told me she didn’t want to drive that car. “My name is Kia,” she said. “And I drive a Jeep.” No, I argued. You can’t have the name of an automobile. “That’s my name, get over it,” Kia told me. I beat my head against the wall a few times, but I really had no choice but to let her have her way. And it suited her. I did go searching and found that kia aura is a native Australian phrase. So I decided her parents loved Australia, and named her sister Sydney. The names fit both of them, and author and character were happy. Her hero, Garrett, was a little harder to nail down, both for Kia and for me. But when I did, I kind of fell for him myself.

I guess Kia knew what she was talking about, because I just signed a contract with Samhain Publishing for Kia and Garrett’s book. Maybe sometimes characters are smarter than we are. But then, they are us. They come from somewhere in our subconscious. Right? Hmmm...


  1. Ah, those character curve balls. I have a love/hate relationship with them. I love when the characters take over and practically write the story themselves. But then, being the major plotter that I am, their fit of rebellion has a way of messing with my carefully laid plans.

  2. Congratulations on the sale, of course! I am not one who thinks her characters "talk" to her or take over, but I definitely enjoy pantsing my stories so I can see what happens when I let loose.

    Jody W.

  3. Great post! I like it when my characters throw curves too.

  4. Oh, I love the curve ball! That's when I know the story is really working, when the characters start to do things you hadn't planned on. Impossible to explain to non-writers, but yeah, they really do pull fast ones on you sometimes...or draw swords!

  5. Nicely done, my friend!