Why characters won’t do what I told them!
I like many have experienced this, you’re trying to write a gripping story, and your stupid characters want to do their own thing! They won’t follow the outline. Come on guys, follow the outline! But they just won’t listen.
The cynic in me says, “stop talking to your characters, they’re not real, people are going to think you’re crazy.”
but the other part of me invites this. Some of the most gripping scenes, heartfelt moments, and hilarious arguments have come from me giving the reins over to my character and letting them do their thing.
I’m not crazy, I know they’re not real people. Please don’t worry about my sanity. (I lost that a long time ago) Your characters do deserve a little autonomy.
I believe that if your characters are not trying to derail the plot, they aren’t fleshed out enough. A good character will feel like a fully realized person with their own wants and desires and they’re certainly going to resist the call to action.
For me, one of the things I love to write is banter between my two main brothers, Honi and Darmis. They feel like real siblings in the way they spat with each other and the dialogue mostly writes itself. But when the plot needs to happen they reluctantly get their act together or another character pulls them back on track for me.
You need to take time to get to know your characters, know all their quirks and desires, encourage their dreams and support them like real people. Set up your story so that your characters have room to pursue their goals, and then shove all those dreams down the toilet with their call to action.
Dragons on Skye
For Honi, I even set up DoS to make him feel like he was getting exactly what he wanted until it turned sour. And for Darmis, he is still forming his wants in life and feels lost searching for them, but he spends a lot of time searching for them. As much as I wanted to get straight into the plot, and bring down fiery hellfire on all of the cast, I needed to take my time to set up Darmis and Honi’s goals before I could move on.
In real life, people get off track, and even when they’re on track, their time can be filled up by fun conversations, new ideas, and bad decisions all at once. Let them have their freedom.
In my current book, Dark Ice, I really struggled to start it because I hadn’t planned anything, I was so scared I couldn’t get a good plot going and get it to follow my plan. But I stepped back, and I told myself, these characters need a break, they need to be themselves unencumbered by plot and just be with each other and happy. Give them some time.
What I’ve written so far has been almost entirely the characters playing off each other, and enjoying life freely. It allowed me to get a better feel for what normal life in my universe feels like, and allow you to see the characters when there’s not a crisis at hand. The crisis is coming of course, but it can wait.
It also gave me time to outline a usable story while still keeping word count goals, if that makes any sense.
I really struggled with building up Mark’s hopes and dreams in FH, because I’m so used to Mark now, in the later books. I know what his goals in life are because they revolved around the calling he got in book one. He doesn’t have big plans in life at the beginning of FH because he’s a teenager who’s only concern in video games. His direction is given to him once he discovers he’s a shadow, and it falls into place. Mark is still a reluctant hero, but there’s really nothing holding him back.
I’m having the same problem in Laevatein’s Choice, though not as much. Mark feels directionless, balancing life with his family and as a Shadow, but he finds purpose in learning how to fight. There’s no need to fight, but he loves the feeling of real adrenaline and a purpose to fulfill. that desire is what’s going to drive the plot.
Your character’s will and desire their autonomy should feel like it’s driving the plot. If your characters don’t feel like they’re driving you, the plot could seem passive.
Having fleshed out characters is the life of the book, it is through them that the reader can come to feel emotionally attached to them and thus the rest of the story. It’s not easy though, and I’ll admit I’ve got one or two flat characters, but it is so valuable to get to know the driving force of your story.
I’ve created a character sheet I use for all my character to help me get to know them which I’ve share several times because I really feel its the best character sheet for fantasy and scifi characters out there.
You can find detailed instructions on how to use it as well as a the character sheet itself on here: How to Build a Solid Original Character I really hope you give it a try, and feel free to share your characters with me if you use it!