Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Character Curve-Balls

Veteran writers know all about it, but the first time it happened to me, I was floored. A character did something I didn't expect. But wait! I'm the writer! How can something happen in my writing that's not premeditated on my part?

Fact: Fictional characters are the truth behind Invasion of the Body-Snatchers.

They live in our subconscious, and once they've burrowed a nice cozy nook for themselves ... they evolve. And once in a while, they kick down the door between subconscious and conscious, and start making demands.

Or they skip the demanding and just take over.

Sometimes they go a little too rogue and have to be reined back in. Often, though—at least in my experience so far—they make better decisions than I would if I knew I was making them. (If that makes sense...)

So I thought it'd be fun to categorize the various curve-balls my characters have thrown at me thus far.

  1. The "Don't Think You Know Me Better Than I Do" Curve-Ball This was the first I ran into. I was maybe a third of the way through the first draft of Fingerprints when a side character decided to be a snotty brat about a (planned) turn of events. Who knew she felt that way? Or that it'd end up being a critical development for the whole series?
  2. The "Let's Talk Technique" Curve-Ball This one happened after I'd added terms like "POV shift" and "head-hopping" to my functional vocabulary. I had great momentum going, writing the last quarter or so of the new project. Great hook at the end of a chapter (I think), went to a new page for the next chapter and ... it immediately played out from 2nd-Most-Important-Character's POV, not Ms. MC who'd been running the show (in tight third person) up to that point. I think there were good reasons for making the shift, and it ended up helping with a dilemma I was already worried about in an upcoming scene. We'll wait for my critique partners to let me know whether I pulled it off.
  3. The "You Think You're Done With Me?—You're Not Done With Me!" Curve-Ball Another fairly recent development. I thought the Crossing the Helix books were set as a solid trilogy. A couple ideas for short-story or novella length prequels, maybe, but that was it. Then Taz (who's usually been much quieter than Raina—no deaf jokes, please) piped up with an idea for a fourth book, launching a new arc. So it's on the list of possible projects.

Have you experienced these types of curve-balls, or others I haven't mentioned? Did they lead you to the promised land ... or down a certain path paved with good intentions?


Matt Sinclair said...

I had a young character walk into the room when her mother was talking to her sister on the phone about their father's death. (Sounds more complicated here than it was on the page.) All at once the little girl I thought was about five years old was pushing ten and wanted to know what whether Aunt Bonnie was coming back soon or not. Changed the whole story -- for the better! Nice post!

Mindy McGinnis said...

Great post RC. I had a supporting character commit suicide out of the blue. I literally was typing going, "Wait - what are you doing!?? Put the gun down!!" But her choice gave motivation to other characters and brought my storylines into a nice dovetail to finish off the book.

So - in the end, it really was the best possible option. Thanks, independent suicidal character!

Eli Ashpence said...

How about the "I'm the real villain" curve ball? I get through a story while THINKING I know who the MC is fighting, only to have a super-cunning character pop out of the background at the last second and say "Bwahahahaha. I was the real mastermind. My pawns failed, but it doesn't matter since you can't catch me!"

R.C. Lewis said...

Good one, Eli! I haven't had that one happen directly yet, although #1 ended up being almost the same thing. :)