One of the things you often read about being an author is that your characters can take on lives of their own. I used to eye this claim with a good deal of skepticism. Now, though, I’ve seen it first-hand…
Yes, I’ve written out lists of options and answers to questions, and chosen from them. I’ve outlined how I want the story to go and what has to happen to lead to my desired outcome. I read about “planners” versus “pantsers;” people who plan their story out versus people who just start writing “by the seat of their pants,” and realized I’m a planner. But that doesn’t mean my characters always cooperate…
One of the best examples of this (for me, so far) was when I set out to write a chapter with the working title “local child meets the 3 main characters.” (Yea, I know, horrible title, but hey.) So the 3 kids set out, la di da, going about their day… and something else happened. They never got around to meeting the local kid.
Hmm, I thought, let’s try this again. Take 2. The 3 kids set out, la di da, going about their day… and once again the local kid fails to show up. What’s going on here? Why won’t they do what I want? Better try again…
In that case, the third time was a charm. The local kid was right where they were supposed to be at the time they were supposed to be there, the 3 other kids met them, and everything went like it was supposed to. Yay!
Will the two accidental chapters get incorporated somewhere else? Maybe… if I can manage it!
In another example, which takes place shortly after the local kid meets the other 3 kids, I started to write a chapter where the four of them, plus the local kid’s pet, had made plans to get together the next day and go on a picnic. So the next morning when the 3 kids open the door to the local kid, and the pet isn’t with her… My reaction was “What? Where’s the pet? What happened? Don’t tell me it’s dead – it can’t be dead!” Where did that sentence, with “no pet,” even come from? I was taken aback, to say the least.
Then, relief – the pet was fine, had just gone to the vet to be fixed. Whew! That chapter went off in a totally different direction, naturally, and the picnic had to wait for another day.
Sometimes I feel like this story is a film I’m watching or a book I’m reading. Rather than creating the story, it’s more like I’m observing it unfold, and I’m just following along in order to find out what happens, myself. I have an idea – as if I’d read a review, or someone had told me something about the plot – but I don’t know the details yet.
I’m not sure if that’s how this whole business of characters-taking-on-lives-of-their-own works for others, but that’s been my experience. Have you had anything similar happen? If so, did the resulting “accidents” lead to new ideas or directions for your story?