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When Characters Don't Behave

Liz here:

You've spent hours creating the perfect hero and heroine for your latest novel. You have elaborate character charts detailing everything from their eye color to their darkest secret to their favorite food. Inside and outside - you know all there is to know about them.

Then, bam, it happens. Your carefully crafted characters go and do something you didn't see coming. It seems out of left field for them. Why did they do that? Their off-script actions change the entire course of the story. What do you do?

As a pantser, this is the exciting part of writing to me. Still, it can mess up the direction you thought the story was headed. Why did he say that? Why did she go there?

This is the point at which you have to examine this character. Ask the following questions:
1. Is this too unbelievably out of character? If it's beyond the realm of what the character would ever do, if it pops the readers out of the fictional dream, scratching their heads in bewilderment, then it's best to not go in that direction. But don't shy away from a surprising twist. Sometimes, a character will do something you don't expect but that you can understand. That makes for good reading.

2. Does it change the story for the better? If you can see the story being taken in a different, better direction, then it's a change you'll want to be sure to make. If it only changes the story for change's sake, then it's probably not worth it.

3. If you don't want to make the change, why not? Look at the reason why you're hesitating. I've fought making the change to the character and plot line because it would require a huge rewrite. After a while, I gave into my instincts and made the change. Guess what? Way better story. But are you hesitating because you aren't sure it will work in the long run? Write a few pages and re-examine after that. You'll have more clarity at that point.

4. What would a reader/critique partner/editor say about this? Asking this question can be a great gauge as to whether or not to make a change. Sometimes you have to actually ask the person. As I write, I often hear my readers, critique partner, and editor screaming in my head. I've learned not to ignore them. It saves them a lot trouble later LOL!

In the end, follow your instincts. You're the author. You hold the characters in the palm of your hand. Yes, they tend to go rogue on us. It's up to us to corral them if that's what is best for the story.

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