Characters that come to life

Have you ever had a character that seems to come to life and do their own thing? It’s happening with one of mine at the moment.

I’ll paint the scene. He’s a detective, not hard, not soft but somewhere in the middle. He’s dedicated, loyal and an all round nice guy. He’s madly in love with his girlfriend. It’s new and fresh and bubbly so his love life is great at the moment. He meets a medical examiner to talk about the details of a recent murder. She’s an attractive woman which is fine. I wanted her to be a little stern, not someone to take crap from uppity young detectives. Instead what I got was both characters flirting. I didn’t intend to write it but it just seemed to fit. Now, while it may not survive second or third draft cull it’s there for now. I got the main aspects of my characters down in words but they just seemed to go about there own business while I watched from my God like perspective, only there to record.

This has happened to me a few times. Now, either I’m going crazy or this is a possible occurrence when writing. We create characters, mapping out their inner Psyche. Defining what they look like and how the world perceives them. We create elaborate inner conflicts. Sometimes we’ll throw a few outer conflicts in for good measure. We’ve build a person from the ground up, everything there to see apart from a Victor Frankenstein blood and bone monster. We set them on a path guided by our story and then they deviate. They seem to want to go do something else. This is not a complaint. I love when it happens. It add spontaneity and surprise. Like my flirting duo above, I didn’t see it coming but there it was. The scene seemed to want it, so as the good natured writer I am I let it happen.

Let me know if you’ve ever had that moment when your characters seemed to know better and do their own thing?


  1. One of my favorite quotes about characters is from William Faulkner. He said, “It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.”

    I believe MANY, if not most, writers of fiction experience this. I know some authors who experience only this, and don’t try to conform their characters to a previously worked scene.

    I use a combination of the two methods. Which is why I’m more of a pantser (writing by the seat of my pants), instead of outlining and planning everything ahead of time. That never seems to pan out.

    Don’t fight it. When your characters start talking, let them talk. You’ll find out much more about them, and about yourself, when you let go and let them take the reins.

    Enjoy! It always leads us to unexpected places.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Oh, you’re not alone. In my novel, Psychic Witness, I needed an extra character simply to provide a means for my main character, Toby, to come into conflict with his antagonist sooner. She was meant to have a small role. But she was having none of it. Not only did she force herself into a much bigger role, she then started making eyes at Toby’s best friend. And she managed to have a big role in the climax. Nor bad for a character who was only meant to have one or two brief scenes!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My characters do that all the time. It drives me nuts.
    The worst I ever had wasn’t someone pushing himself to the frontline, but a main character withdrawing himself from the plot completely and pretty fatally. He got himself poisoned in the middle of a story arc. He was the BFF of the protagonist and supposed to act as a catalysator for a lot of difficult stuff, the voice of reason etc. And then this scene is written and he is dead. Just like that.
    Took me some time to cover from that. Somehow, it felt like a kick in the behind.


  4. One character ended up turning from being my Novel’S actual villain to a good guy that is obsessed with revenge and finding the new bad guy…I think it was a good call…I hope !


  5. I am always surprised by what my characters do and say. Sometimes it’s shocking. Sometimes it cracks me up. My husband will hear me laughing and say, “What are you laughing about?” I respond with, “I can’t believe Shawny just did that, or said that!” He doesn’t understand that we, as writers, have no control over their actions. And a lot of times, we’re just as surprised as anyone else. I love when that happens! Great post. I just starting following you to see what happens next 🙂


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