Everyone has seen the trope where characters from a book or movie suddenly realize that they’re not real, that they only exist at the whim of some unseen, omnipotent “god” they call The Author. Sometimes these realizations are completely existential; sometimes the character achieves a measure of independence and goes running through the real world causing The Author trouble.
The reality is a mix of the two. Characters (mine anyway) run wild all the time, exercising their free will and acting in ways that completely surprise me. As a case in point, my current WIP (work-in-progress) is supposed to be ramping up to a conclusion, a conclusion I had mapped out in my head. (Somehow, I always manage to map out the ends of my books better than any other part. Short stories, not so much. I don’t know why.) But now two of my main characters have decided, all of their own, to set out on a mini-quest to find a certain Important Article that may not even exist. Now, I had intended to deal with the Important Article, but not devote an entire chapter to it; my characters had other ideas and they appear now to be in charge.
What do I do when my characters go off the reservation? I let them. I’ve already learned that attempting anything resembling a detailed outline lasts about as long as any battle plan, which is to say, it falls apart after the first shot (or scene). My theory is that I’m merely writing down what my characters have experienced, so it’s only fair to allow them some autonomy. The trouble arises when characters say, “I want to go here and do this,” without disclosing any of the details of what comes next. Then they say, “Hey, you’re the writer. Write.” And they sit back and sip lattes while I work like crazy to make sure that their ideas fit into my book.
Sometimes, I hate my characters…