Friday, October 8, 2010

Characters Who Just Won't Cooperate

I’m currently in the midst of the dreaded first three chapters of my new novel. If you’re a fellow writer, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If not, just imagine having someone you think you know well change their personality on almost a daily basis.

These chapters are especially frustrating for me because I like knowing what I’m doing, where my story is going. I research my characters extensively and plot out my story completely before I begin writing. I am as far away from a “pantser” (one who writes by the seat of her pants) as you can get. My characters are well defined and their personal goals and conflicts will drive my plot.

At the end of my first chapter, my heroine revealed something about her past that I hadn’t planned. It just came out of her mouth, when she was describing her skills in an effort to secure a job. But, hey, it was okay. It rounded out her character, added to her likeability and her motivation for behaving in certain ways. It fit. So I didn’t worry over much. It’s cool when your characters come to life.

Last week, though, my new hero started reacting to my heroine in a way that showed me he has trust issues. What the heck? I didn’t plan for him to have trust issues. Trust isn’t supposed to have anything to do with his relationship barrier. But, it fits so well as a reaction to the actions of my heroine that I know it’s right.

It’s just that now I have to reexamine everything else about him.

If trust is his major issue, then he may have different goals than I envisioned. He might have a whole new inner story. And if he does, it may mean the conflict between hero and heroine is not as I’d imagined. It might mean I have to rework the whole darn plot!

I’ve spent a week fretting about this.

You see, I always forget this happens as I begin. It happens throughout the book. Characters come to life, whether you are a plotter or a pantser and they take you by surprise.

And, for the life of me, I’m not sure why I always fret when it happens. In the end, so far, it has always been the uncooperative character who has deepened my stories. In CHOICES, it was one of my villains who refused to behave as I had envisioned. Harriet was supposed to be a social climber but I didn’t plan for her to be a laudanum addict. She just started drinking the stuff to treat her migraine headache and suddenly, all her horrid behavior made sense. She was a motivated villain.

So, I guess I should quit worrying about my new hero. It makes sense for him to distrust my heroine and already, it gives him more reason for not wanting to work with her and for his worry about her influence over their employer. His reactions are making so much more sense, now that he’s revealed the distrust.

Now, I just have to go back, figure out what made him that way, and wait for one of them to do something else unexpected!


Jacqueline Seewald said...

So true, Pam! We think we've got the whole thing figured out, and then the characters in the novel just come alive and take it all in another direction. I always live with the characters for a while before I start to write, thinking I know exactly how to plot the book. But our characters become very real to us and their lives are complex just like real

Jacqueline Seewald

Pamela Nowak said...

Isn't that the truth!

Anonymous said...

Sometimes you just have to let those pesky characters take over, don't you? My characters move in and out of a story until the final edit--and even then the move could be temporary! Thanks for the post.

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