I’ve set myself a challenge in the epilogue of Farewell to Kindness. My secondary character David, who is hero of the book I plan to write next, is reported to be missing. No-one has heard from him for four months.
I don’t know where that came from. It was in the plan to send him searching for his heroine, known in Farewell to Kindness as Mist. But four months? Where did she go? Where did he go? What is holding them up and why? I have absolutely no idea. And I don’t know how the answers are going to affect the already plotted chapter outline of Encouraging Prudence.
I started Farewell to Kindness thinking I was a planner. And I am. But the bits of the book that excite me most are the ones that came out of nowhere and insisted on changing all of my carefully structured plans. My main villain turned out to be someone quite different to who I intended, the book ended a month earlier than intended and in a different locale, and several characters that weren’t even in the first draft demanded their own place in the 3rd.
I’m tentatively learning to trust my subconscious. When I find I’ve dropped a whole heap of eggs all over my plot, I’m learning to give a cheer and enjoy the ensuing omelette.
I came across this article by Juliet Marillier that talks about characters taking over. What she says rings true to me:
So here I am, getting to the pointy end of this manuscript with my characters in increasing peril from external sources and at the same time beset by internal conflict (there’s a strong thread in the Shadowfell books about conscience and responsibility – can lies, deception and violence be justified if they’re the only way to achieve a greater good?) I know already that my two protagonists can’t come out of the story without significant psychological damage. And now one of those protagonists has started making choices I didn’t plan for him. Awful choices. Crazy, unwise choices. What’s going on?
I find while I’m writing the last part of a book, the part where I ratchet up the tension and present my characters with impossible choices, I sleep fitfully, dream vividly, and think about the story and characters most of the time, often to the detriment of whatever else I’m supposed to be doing. I get a lot of ‘brain churn’, a not-especially-helpful overload of story details bubbling around in my mind. I become quite disturbed when my characters have to face terrifying situations or sink into a mass of dark thoughts. Perhaps that’s because their stories, though fictional and including fantasy elements, are not so different from the situations some people still face in our world, in places where tyrannical regimes use terror as a tool of control. Or perhaps it’s because my protagonists feel like real people to me, and I, the author/God of this creation, have chosen to subject them to hell on earth. Now one of them is challenging me in a way that makes me uncomfortable.Go on, push me. Push me to the edge. See how much more I can take before I jump.
Characters don’t exist independently, of course, however real they may become to us. They are indeed all in our minds. If another writer came to me for advice on the situation outlined above, I’d say keep writing, let the character have his head, finish the novel, then go back and rewrite that section if you’re not happy with it. If a character seems to be pushing or pulling hard, chances are that’s the natural direction for the story to take. If the guy is in your head all the time, urging you on, what you write may well be inspired.