When Characters Appear At Random

So I’ve been making good progress on my current WIP. Time off work does wonders for your wordcount. Chapter five is done and I’ve got a clearer idea where the story is heading.

I’m not much of a planner. Well, it depends on the project – sometimes I plan in great detail, but for the most part I have a clear idea of where I’m starting, a vague idea of where I’m heading and a few key milestones mapped out between. The getting to and from those milestones is something I hope will be figured out along the way.

So far the current WIP is growing quite organically, evolving from the little idea that got me started into a multifaceted story with more than one interweaving (hopefully!) plot thread. Today though, I really knew it was starting to get a life of its own.

Writers talk about characters having a life of their own. This was something I first experienced back when I wrote fanfiction. Fanfiction is generally about the author fantasising about being with someone on a TV show/Film they love, and for the most part my 13/14 year-old dallies into Fanfiction were very much about that. Not that I was ever as dirty as some fanfiction I’ve stumbled upon in the past. Seriously, you could burn your eyes on the filth out there! But, back to the point, when I got a bit older and started thinking seriously about writing my own stuff, I thought more carefully about plot and less about how character X would end up together with character Y (although there was still a strong element of that). My characters became less like exaggerated versions of me, and more like their own person, until one day one of them turned round and told me that she most definitely wasn’t going to play out a particular scene how I’d imagined it.

I thought that was as difficult as fictional people would get. Arguing back over the hows and whys of scenes. The fact that they are always right and that I have to bow to the superior wisdom of a fictional person does present its psychiatric questions, but that’s what writer friends are for – they nod knowingly instead of looking at you like you’re mad and tell you all about their own battles.

Now though, it seems these fictional people appear at random, waltzing into my manuscript with no concern for my plot ideas.

This first happened to me on my previous novel that I completed, but will probably never attempt to publish. The fact of its completion was enough for me.

It was, in essence, a story about a teenage pregnancy. The main character ends up pregnant after a one night stand with a boy who isn’t particularly interested in her, and the novel details her pregnancy and how she comes to terms with being a mother and the redemption of her incredibly dysfunctional family along the way.

About a third of the way into the novel, the main character acquires herself a role model in the form of a sixth form student who knows what she’s been through. This was planned. Anna, the sixth former, was part of the original story notes I made when jotting down a rough outline. The boy who appeared behind her, entirely of his own accord, as I wrote Anna into the story was not.

From a character I hadn’t known existed until I wrote his name, Will became a very major part of the plot. The main character’s love interest, in fact. Looking back at the book now, I have no idea what it would have been like without him.

And now it’s happened again. My characters are happily guarding something for a friend when a gang of youths tries to intimidate them. Out from this gang appears a new character, merrily rattling a fence as he tries to scare Keira and company, who, though not yet named, I already know is going to play an integral role. From the vague idea of this gang, he’s sprung forwards and announced his intent to hang around, that I haven’t seen the last of him yet.

I’m sure this sort of thing presents a whole load more psychological questions about writers and how their brains work, but I’m not going to analyse it. I aim to go with the flow in my writing, and last time an unplanned, unannounced character work really well. This time, I’m quite happy to see where this new development takes me.


3 thoughts on “When Characters Appear At Random

  1. Heather Rosdol says:

    I hear that’s how it works from accomplished writers. The characters take over. Congrats! I’ve never experienced it but it must be an incredible feeling. Don’t call the psychiatrist and don’t over analyze it. Just go with it. And good luck!

    Keep writing,


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