When Characters Attack


Once upon a time, just for the laugh of it, I wrote a story in which the main characters of all the works-in-progress in my writing group all went on strike. Some of the characters were demanding more “screen time”. One character insisted he should have a scene with two bikini-clad ladies in a hot tub. Another wanted a different boyfriend, and one more wanted to be able to paint her toenails. I made fun of myself as well – my striking character, Lyristus, was complaining that he’d been beaten up several times but hadn’t had any lovin’ to balance it out. As I said, when I began, I thought I was writing it for the fun of it, but along the way I realized my character was trying to tell me something. He’d been harboring a secret love of an unattainable woman for nearly the whole book, and that love needed to be a central focus of the story. Lyristus wasn’t a secondary character – he was a protagonist, and I hadn’t noticed until I let him go on strike.

I’m sure you’ve all heard writers say that they had a perfectly clear idea of what would happen in their novels, until the characters got going and changed everything. It’s true, at least for me. Once the characters are created and the story gets going, they will cry and get drunk and spend too much money and dance like fools in front of the Duke of Burgundy, all the things real people do. And sometimes when they take that sudden left turn, it may drive the author nuts, but it makes for a more brilliant story.

So here’s your homework, kids. Tell me about a character you’ve written that turned your story upside-down. (Readers, you can play, too – tell me about a character you read that you think might have done something like that to his author.)


7 comments to When Characters Attack

  • Hey, great minds do think alike!

    In the WIP I’m working on, besides the character I was expecting to only give a walk-on cameo taking over and putting quite the road block in the way of one of my protagonist’s, I had another character arrive on scene about 50,000 words earlier than expected. And proceed to inform me he really isn’t one of the antagonists after all, but plans on proving he’s really a protagonist by the time the book is done.

    This is why I don’t pre-plot everything beforehand.

  • Molly Trueblood (not named after the TV series) was a secondary character in the Jane Yellowrock series. She is so alive that she may need her own book.
    So many characters, so little time.

  • I created a character in my first book, Children of Amarid, basically as a foil to the hero and as a decoy for readers trying to figure out who the mysterious villain was. I didn’t particularly like this character when I started, but I figured he’d serve his purpose. Then I did some stuff to him — bad, mean stuff. And he handled it all so well, and grew into such an interesting person that he wound up being the focus of book two in the series (The Outlanders).

    And then there was the character who told me she was pregnant just as I was finishing a book. Totally messed up what I’d intended to do with the rest of the series…..

  • mikaela

    Hum. I am revising a novelette right now and thought that I knew what happened. Let’s just say that it turned into a series of novelettes each with a different POV character. Did I mention that the characters from the sequels are scenes in this one too?
    Wanna bet this turns into a novel?

    Oh well, at least I have fun 🙂

  • Chris Branch

    Okay folks,

    I almost feel bad about throwing cold water on this idea, but hey, I can’t resist.

    The thing is, we all know, don’t we, that we (the writers) are the ones coming up with these new directions for our characters to take? Maybe we didn’t come up with the idea via some rational step by step process – it just “came to us”. But that happens with lots of things in our stories – maybe even everything: the initial concept, the setting, the plot, the twist, etc. To say that my character “told me” halfway through the story that he wanted to be the protag’s ex-roommate rather than his eccentric uncle just seems kind of… what’s a word for it? Cutesy? Inside-jokey? I say just go ahead and take the credit for being clever enough – even if unconsciously clever – to think up that left turn your character took.

    Sorry Misty, I know, if I didn’t want to play the game I should have just kept my mouth shut, right?

    Anyway, it’s just my opinion. You guys are the published authors, so I ought to defer to your impressions on this. Who knows – maybe if I start thinking of my characters like that, my writing will improve!

  • Yes, yes, defer to me! Bring me chocolate! 😀

    Seriously, every writer’s process is different. I can’t help feeling that the characters made their own decisions, even though I know deep down that it’s all me. The characters become so real to me, I can’t think of it any other way. But if that doesn’t work for you, by all means throw it aside and never worry about it again! *grin*

  • L. Jagi Lamplighter

    I don’t recall it, but my husband tells me that I once sent him an email reading “Help! The cat took over the scene.”

    That cat was a lot of fun to write. 😉