NaNoWriMo Day 04 – The Characters Stole the Novel

The funny thing is, yesterday I posted talking about how I had all these plans for my novel. I wrote two outlines over October and got ready to write. But, it seems that after writing two complete novels, I’m still the worst when it comes to planning.

Today I wrote about 2,000 words, but none of those words went exactly as planned. The more I kept writing the characters, the more I realized that the two main characters were, well, a little different than I originally planned.

I know it sounds weird to say that the character hijacked the story, but I swear I’m not crazy.

Online, writers often talk about how characters do what they want to do. Sometimes, some even mention how characters take a life of their own and change things. All of that makes it seems like the writers are crazy, but I think it’s actually not that crazy.

A while back, when I was in my writing program, I wrote a story that got some of the worst criticism I’ve ever received. To keep things short, the professor claimed, “the plot overtook the story after page 20.” For the longest time that didn’t make any sense. How could plot overtake the story?

Well, I re-read that story over the summer with plans to revise it in order to post on this blog, and I think I figured out what happened.

The story was old. About three years old to be prices. I wrote it right at the height of my main fiction blog days when I was writing a flash fiction piece a day. I had this crazy idea about a journal that recorded a person’s memories physically, and how someone ripped those memories out of the  journal in order to influence them. The plot itself worked well, but the characters in there didn’t.

Character development either did not exist or had almost no ground at any point. Hell, the villain in the story appeared mostly in name. Characters talked and mentioned her, but she never actually showed up until the very end, when the plot required her.

Seeing this in my writing helped me realize that I wrote characters around the plot a lot rather than let the characters take a life of their own. They were nothing more than cardboard cutouts designed to act out what I wanted them to do. In a way, they were puppets, and I was forcing them into roles that didn’t work.

Or, you can also see it as the little development made it unrealistic for the reader. They never got to meet the characters, so how could they know how the people would react?

Now, I consciously ask, what would this character do? How would they respond? How would they talk? How are they any different than the other character?

And that’s what writers really mean when they say characters do what they want. In order for the characters to seem real, they have to have the personality that fits their actions, and their actions must be adequate reactions to the events. As a very smart teacher of me said, the real story lies in the reactions.

It’s four days into NaNoWriMo, and the characters are changing my outline, and it’s all because I realized the main character is not the one who would push to do something. He didn’t fit that archetype. Luckily, the other character did, and the plot, as I designed it, is moving in the direction I wanted. It’s just that the way it’s getting there is a little different.