“The characters took over the story.”
When I hear authors say this I smile and nod. I suppose it sounds strange, and maybe a little ludicrous, to those who don’t write. I admit that fictional creations from one’s own imagination shouldn’t be able to control an author’s thoughts, let alone the ‘pen’. However, it does happen… and often. I speak from experience.
They don’t literally take over. Well, in a figurative sense they do, but…
A tale, from conception to completion may take many paths. I can speak only for myself, of course. Sometimes I pencil out a rough draft of the entire story. Sometimes I open a notebook and let the pen start writing, whatever words may flow or direction it may take. The latter is where I find the character is more in charge of what happens and thus has a greater chance of taking over what will eventually transpire.
A particular strong original character has the potential to hijack a plotline. This can be a wonderful thing… unless that character comes between the two romantic mains. Alas, what angst must result! Is it the character’s angst or the author’s? Is it one and the same?
It is in periods of intense involvement with the story and my characters that little else may intrude upon my thoughts. I think as that character, play out the conversations as that character and consider alternatives as that character. If there has been detailed forethought in the development, then it can be no surprise that this character is much more than a one- or two-dimensional construct. By the time the story is half told the players have all become people, their emotions and reactions predictable. When faced with an unpleasant option is it any wonder that some may truly deflect the author’s original intentions and take her on a journey elsewhere?
Many years ago I read a bio of Jane Austen, and wish I could again find it, where it was claimed that Jane herself had to wrest control of Mansfield Park away from her characters. It seemed that Henry Crawford had become a better match for Fanny than the intended plan and therefore it became necessary to have him commit some great moral evil in order to put an end to such a pairing.
Whether or not this was true, or merely wishful thinking on the part of someone with a fondness for Henry Crawford, I like to think that Jane Austen also had the occasional struggle for control with her characters.
So the next time you hear an author say those words, ‘the characters took over the story’, believe it.