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Characters take on a life of their own!

Perhaps more experienced authors are not surprised by this phenomenon but as a new author I was floored when this happened to me for the first time.

When I am mapping the plot out for the first time I build character sketches for each person who appears in the story. Their background, relationship status, their physical description, emotional traits, strengths and weaknesses and their motivations help me build a clear picture in my head of who they are. I have been know to cast an ideal actor to hang each character on too. The profiles are quite detailed but I reasoned that they needed to be because I needed to know how they would react to different people and situations.

As I was writing, I had a clear plan in mind for certain characters and as I wrote I came to a critical plot point. Suddenly, the characters seemed to take over and the action went in a completely different direction. Instead of being a character that I was directing, they began to direct the scene and the dialogue! They were saying things and doing things I hadn't originally thought of.

Without giving too much away, there is a character in Keeping Secrets who takes matters into their own hands with dire consequences. They make a sacrifice which has massive implications for them. I originally thought they would take less drastic action but the version that appears in Keeping Secrets was absolutely right for that character. Anything else would have seemed like a sell out and that just was not them.

My characters don’t exist independently, however real they are to me. If I write them well enough they become real to my readers too. Their expectations have to be met too. Can you imagine the outcry if James Bond refused a glass of Dom Perignon because he was driving or if an expletive slipped from the lips of Miss Marple? There has to be a balance of what is in character and when the stakes are so high they would behave uncharacteristically. If a character seems to be pushing hard in one direction, the author has to listen and ask why?

So I can rationalise that this is my subconscious taking control of my storyline and characters, and that’s probably true. But it does mean that they all have far richer lives deep in my imagination than I was ever aware of and that is wonderful.


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