Plan vs. Evolve

At the end of the year I’m stumbling again about the direction of development some of my characters are taking right now. The funny thing: I do have the structure of it neatly planned, but now, during writing, my main characters (I do have 5 of them, no less…sigh) seem to evolve in another way… It does happen almost every time, to me at least. No doubt this is due to lack of discipline on my part. But I do wonder why it happens. While writing, the characters are alive in my head — welcome to schizophrenia. Nevertheless, they are just that - I made them up and keep 'em alive and kicking and if I’m not satisfied how they do, they will be quietly … ahem … dealt with. Once, since I was not satisfied with the development of a character, I simply chose to lobotomise him. Only to discover that in the second variation said character did develop some kind of sadistic streak — not towards the other characters in the story, but to me. This probably shows that I should be kept under close observation, but that’s fine with me, since I do have my little friends, Schizo on my left shoulder, and Phrenia on my right shoulder. They will watch over me, no doubt…

We will wish you a pretty good new year…

Embrace the living, independent characters in your head.

Not saying to let them do whatever they want, but if you force them to do things they’re resisting, it usually ends badly. A better solution (for me at least) is to figure out how to get them to do something that fits with their personality. Sometimes that means having a different character do it, or tricking them into it by setting the situation up so they can’t avoid it. But… if you force the issue, it feels forced.

Yes - agreed! My characters have already surprised me a couple of times, pretty early in my first draft, and this is a good thing! If your writing is alive, you will learn from it, IMHO. It’s a journey of discovery, as well as a story you want to share. This isn’t to say that you aren’t in control - you are steering, and you should be. You need to keep your eye on your ultimate destination. But, if the paths you follow to get there change, that’s really okay. It shows that you are following your characters and letting them lead you, and that means that your story is alive. At least, that’s what I think!

Oh, I do think it is a good thing too, but I never managed to find a good answer for “why is this happening”. I certainly don’t know a satisfying one. I do like surprises in a story - who doesn’t - but I keep wondering why and how do I surprise myself. Mind you, this is by no means something which I would consider serious, or even worth bothering about, but it nevertheless keeps coming to my consciousness at least once a year…

I have a theory for that which I posted on my site a while back. In short, I suspect your subconscious knows more about the character’s personality than you realize consciously, and that’s where the bulk of it comes from.

Well, you’ve invested enough time and energy to create a self-sustaining system inside your head. After that it runs no matter what your feelings on the matter might be.

I’ve finished one sci fi novel (it was finding Scrivener that gave me the tools to finish it. Thanks, KB!), and I’ve a much larger mess of a fantasy novel I’ve been working on for a longer time. In each story a minor character (spear carriers, really) ignored their assigned role and made themselves protagonists. I wouldn’t have a good story without them.

I think it happens to all of us one way or another.

Characters do tend to go their own way. Let them. Unless you’re Nabokov who, in response to a question about characters tending to go their own way, replied that his characters never went their own way, and they were, rather, his “galley slaves”.

Yeah. I started an urban fantasy thinking “The vampire will be a bit character. He will NOT be a love interest. The vampire will be a bit character. He will NOT be a love interest. The vampire will take over my plot and be romantically interested in my narrator. Drat.”

I think his hilarious personality didn’t help. I wrote the first chapter—where he has a quick part—and showed it to a few friends, and they all LOVED him and wanted more.

Their wishes are not my commands, but I seem to have humored them in this case.

One thing I do to limit this is start writing when I have a character/situation in mind. I see how the characters are shaping, then figure out what the plot will be. My plan is very basic, and Scrivener now helps me ditch thoughts that don’t work.

I arrange my story as basic events, keeping in mind which must happen and which just seem like they should happen, so if I ultimately write so a should scene doesn’t fit, no biggie. So far, I’ve used the notecards for this, but I’m attempting another novel, too, now, where I used Outliner to my utter shock.


Reviving this decrepit thread because it seems the best place to note advice from the great novelist Orhan Pamuk on this point. Basically, he says he plans everything out and writes his novels in chunks. He seems like an ideal Scrivener candidate (he doesn’t mention whether he uses the app) because he writes what’s going to happen in each chapter (corkboard synopsis) even before he writes the chapter, and when he’s stalled in one chapter, he’ll go write one that may utlimately appear somewhere quite distant from the one he was stuck on. Read it at: … riters-fog

Oh yes, the thrilling action sequences write themselves… The hard work of writing is filling in the missing bits, imho.

Now that’s telling the truth…