Characters with Minds of Their Own

My characters are sometimes wily and unpredictable. They insist upon doing things contrary to plan. I’ve got a story in mind, a progression of events interwoven with various thematic subtleties and character nuances, all nicely outlined in my little brain. I start writing. And then.

I’m writing, the unfolding scenes progressing as expected, when suddenly one of my characters refuses to do as I tell him. Just like that, without warning. Not only does he refuse to comply, he insists upon doing something completely different. The first time this happened to me, when writing my first book, I was perplexed. I didn’t understand how a character, my character, could have a mind of his own. But he did. I tried to force him to my will. He belonged to me, after all. But still he refused. Writing stalled. New words, sentences, paragraphs refused to appear. I was stuck. No way existed to get around or through his intransigence.

Perhaps following an instinct, and very glad later that I did, I eventually submitted to his will, allowing him to do as he insisted. Writing flowed again. The story veered in an unexpected direction. And I found that this new way was actually better. Much better. From that moment on, I’ve never tried to prevent a character from doing as he chooses. Submitting to his will is creatively freeing.

The most interesting aspect? Though the character might choose a different way, he always, always acts in a way consistent with who he is. Fully formed in my imagination, complex and nuanced, he is who he is and cannot act contrarily to himself. Only to my wishes, the stubborn bugger.

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