Wednesday, May 22, 2013

When Characters Refuse to Listen

I remember reading the NaNo forums one year, finding multiple writers complaining of runaway characters. They swore up and down that their character simply refused to do something. I was amused at the notion. They’re characters. You made them up. You control what they do. End of discussion. Then I met my princess character.

Admittedly, the name Jasmine came from Aladdin. Sorry, I grew up on Disney, just like everyone else. Anyway, as I was planning my story, I decided to scrap the name Jasmine. Disney used it first. I connected with other NaNo writers and asked for help. I needed my princess’ name to begin with a J, since she used a different name for part of the story.

I found a wonderful writer who offered to name things. I needed several family names, the name of my kingdom, and my princess name. After a few days, she emailed me her list. In her suggestions was the name Jemma. I liked it and decided to rename my princess Jemma.

That lasted until November 1st. As I attempted to write the first few sentences of Chapter 1, I had to introduce my main character, the princess. I am not kidding you – I literally could not type the name Princess Jemma. It would not happen. I tried Princess Jasmine, and the rest of the sentence flowed out.

In that one moment, my character asserted control. The character that I didn’t know that well yet had very politely stepped to the forefront of my brain and said, “My name is not Jemma. It is Jasmine.”

Since that time, I’ve been sympathetic to other writers in that position. One minute they’re minding their own business, and suddenly the character does something they do not expect. Like speaking to them. Like refusing to do what you want. Like refusing to do what other characters want.

In this same book, I had to simply stop checking in with one character because she was so strong. I was afraid if I kept visiting her, she would take over the book. The story was not about her. In later stories, I had to make this character deathly ill so she would be unable to take control of the situation or the story. It’s weird and wonderful at the same time.

If you haven’t had a character act seemingly of their own accord, don’t worry. It is not the sign of a bad writer. It is simply an interesting phenomenon. Wonder at it from afar, and be thankful that it hasn’t happened to you. It’s awesome and scary. I’m not sure whether or not you want such a thing or not.


  1. I love runaway characters! They are frustrating but tons of fun. For my second book I had a character that was supposed to make an early exit out of the novel. He yelled at me for weeks and weeks, and weeks. He made me flow charts. He explained in multiple different ways why he would not wait for a hypothetical third book to make his come back. I wrote him back in. He then backed off humbly and left me at the keyboard thinking, buddy, you would have had a much BIGGER plot in book three!

    Alas, he chose his future.

  2. LOL. Glad you got him under control. Flow charts, huh? I need one of my characters to do that for me.