When Books (or Characters) Don’t Listen to You as the Writer

The first time I had a book character disobey me, I was in complete shock. I’d heard about it from other writers, but hadn’t experienced it myself. When I told one of my non-writing friends that it had happened, she was pretty sure I was crazy.

Whether you outline or discovery write, you know that sometimes your story will spin in a different direction than what you’d planned. Outliners will then have to redo their outline to fit it in, and discovery writers? They just go along for the ride.

Back to my first experience. My main character’s brother, Adam, was supposed to be a minor character. Someone who was only mentioned in passing.

And then he laughed at me. “No, sorry. I have to do this. For my sister.”

I stared in shock at the words in front of me as I saw him dart out of the room and try to save the day. I watched him get taken and move the story forward in a way that my main character couldn’t have. The story was so much stronger because of it. Then together, they were able to save the day, and the story wrapped up perfectly. Well, maybe not perfectly because another two books came after that.

There are times when you can reign in your story and tell them to behave, but before you do, weigh the consequences. Will the story suffer if you go a new direction? Will it be stronger? What are you going to have to change after this? Is it worth it?

One great indicator is how the story reacts. If you’re suddenly at a standstill and you can’t go any further, chances are you need to go back and fix a spot. Maybe that sudden inspiration wasn’t what the story needed. And sometimes the different direction is exactly what the plot needed to drive it forward.

I was done with a series last year. My character had saved the day and everything was exactly how I wanted it. Except … my story had other ideas. One day in the middle of church, a whole new plot came to mind and screamed at me to write it.

So I did. Except that I got to the ending and sat there staring at it. Nothing worked. The ending I had planned out didn’t solve anything, and in fact, made it too similar to the ending of the third book. I took a step back and talked to a few friends before suddenly realizing that this wasn’t the end. It had to go a different direction or I would have broken promises I made in the book. After I made that decision, the story flowed perfectly, and I was able to finish it later that day.

And now I have another book to write. But you know what? That’s okay, because I know that going off the beaten path will make this story stronger.

So what’s the craziest thing your characters ever made you write?

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