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Battle of Author against Characters

January 23, 2012

The characters in a story are often attempting to outwit their author. The author has a plan for the story and contains the characters within this plot like mice in a shoebox. The mice are always trying to chew their way out, but the shoebox material and size can be altered by the author to either aid or hinder them. At times, a character’s personality may run contrary to the plan the author had in mind. In this case, it is often best to follow along as the character takes the lead because believable characters are more important than a planned plotline. Readers want the characters in a book to feel alive. The characters have their own personalities and goals for the future, so they may want to direct the story in a different direction than originally planned. The author has to decide whether this should be allowed.

Sometimes the characters might determine a new potential path for themselves through their dialogue. This could cause issue with the established plotline depending on how the author plays it. For example, lets say the characters are trapped in a prison and are meant to meet a new character who will be thrown in later. The meeting between these characters is very important for later plot elements in the story so it must occur. However, when the original characters are discussing their fate, they develop an escape plan that sounds feasible. How can this situation be handled? They are not going to sit around without trying their plan. The development of the plan could be left out altogether, but then the characters would not seem realistic because there are not many people who so quickly become resigned to their fate. Readers might later spot this potential method of escape if it was not mentioned by the characters themselves. This could cause them to question the story and become disgruntled with it. The best way to deal with the situation is to go along with it, at least initially. Let the characters think that they are getting their way. Perhaps they try their escape plan but are foiled by the guards, or if they do escape, maybe they can meet the character they need to encounter in a different way.

Regardless, I believe that the characters should nearly always get their way. They know themselves best, so they should know how they would act. Your job as author is just to write it all down.


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  1. My plot lines are so different now from even a month ago. My characters drive the plotline in lots of different directions, and new side-plots and characters keep popping up everywhere. 🙂

  2. Thought-provoking post. I tend to believe that the characters are always right. When I don’t listen to them, things stop working within the story, even if I’m still following the plot line

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