When Your Characters Surprise You

They’re sneaky things, characters, aren’t they? You think you know them, that you know where they’re taking the story, and then BOOM!

Surprise! gif

A hidden past! A terrible secret! A link to another character you never saw coming!

As a writer who’s a mix of plotter and pantster, I love it when my characters do something unexpected, totally tipping my story upside down. It’s what makes writing fun, and gives your story a real honesty and authenticity you could not have achieved if you’d not given your characters free reign. In his fantastic book On Writing, Stephen King said that writing a story is like uncovering a fossil – it’s already there, you’re just drawing it out. Letting your characters be as true to themselves as possible is one part of this process.

In The Elites, there’s a character called Akhezo. He’s one of the main characters now, but when I started writing the book, he didn’t even feature. It was only when I needed to come up with a young boy to serve a purpose in a particular scene that he suddenly appeared, demanding half the story to himself. Most people who have read the book say Akhezo is one of their favourite characters (he’s one of mine), and it’s funny to think that he might not have played a big part in the novel unless I’d trusted my instincts and let Akhezo tell his story.

So if your characters do something unexpected, or new ones come along begging for screen-time, don’t worry – trust your instincts. Trust theirs. Who knows where they could take you?

2 comments to When Your Characters Surprise You

  • In Child of the Hive, the character Rachel was a similar case to yours. I needed someone to talk to the main characters and I gave her a name. Then she kept coming back, developed a crush on one of the other characters and wormed her way into the plot. Now the second half of the book wouldn’t work without her.

    In Shadows of Tomorrow, I didn’t realise until most of the way through the first draft that one of the characters was named after another and that only accentuates the fact she hates him.

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