Chapter 33 – Let Me Confuse You

I’m pretty sure that’s what the characters in my story thought recently. The plot I imagined in my head is now a jumbled mess of pop up characters and odd turns of events. But I’ll roll with it, for now.

Abstract_light_painting_by_Alexander_Nie
The way my plot and characters run around at times. Picture by Alexander Nie.

I like to listen my characters when I write. They can be very helpful at times, breaking me free from a corner by suddenly jumping up and deciding they want to do something right now. And they can be very confusing, leaving me screaming WHY at the screen. Why would you go there, why would you say that, why would you torment me so. All is not lost when these questions arise, however. I might learn something new. Maybe it’s not relevant and maybe I’ll end up removing chunks of story in the end, but at least I’ll know not to let that character do it again.

For example, one character insisted on more action and managed to get into trouble just fine. The problem is, now they’re stuck in that trouble. Any exit I can think of feels off and the character has gone lazy, content on sitting on their hands and not even trying to be helpful. Good for you, character, but I should really get the plot moving… Perhaps I’ll have to do a casting event for the rest of the crew, see which one comes up with the best rescue plan.

And who are all these pop up characters? I never wanted them but yet there they are, taking up pages. They do contribute to the story, in a way, but refuse to shape up into real characters, just standing around like faceless mannequins. At least half of them are useless and are heading right for the chopping board when the big knife of editing strikes.

When it comes to the story itself, I’m pretty good at keeping the core intact from start to finish. A scene might play out differently or a character may be left behind during the edits, new chapters could be added, but the main plot rarely changes from the original plan.

But to be honest I’m not too strict about my first drafts. I’ll let all kinds of things in out of curiosity. If something doesn’t work in the end, I’ll just edit it out. Maybe this is one of the reasons I’m not a big fan of editing… Oh well. Some day I might learn to separate bad ideas from good before they make it on the paper, but for now I’m going to accept even the bad ones as writing practice.

How do you handle unruly characters and bouncing plot? Do you guide everything back on track as soon as you notice the change, or do you follow the alternate path to the end to see if it works or not? Do you even have problems guiding the characters or are they all model citizens, doing exactly like you first planned?

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3 thoughts on “Chapter 33 – Let Me Confuse You

  1. My characters are nothing but unruly! It might have something to do with me being horrible at planning… I usually just dive head first into the story and see where my characters take me. But once I feel like I know what’s going to happen next – boom! My characters get themselves into trouble no one’s seen coming. Because I don’t really plan anything, I feel like my characters just get themselves into a horrible mess and expect me to write them out of it, or they show me all the ridiculously boring moments of their life. That’s usually when I start interviewing them on the page, which basically just feels like me screaming “why can’t you just tell me what you want?!!” at them.

    But yeah, my characters confuse me all the time. I think they do it for the right reasons, though. I remember writing a first draft of a novel, where the initial main character was a young boy who’d turned into a ghost. About three chapters into writing I noticed that his mom was taking over the story – and writing her story just felt like the right thing to do.

    Speaking of planning, how much do you plan the story and characters before you start writing? Like I said, I’m more of a pantser, but I’d like to learn planning from others. I always get excited about planning, but as soon as I bump into questions about my characters’ height/weight/hair colour, I give up. Any tips?

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    • True, characters can confuse us for the right reasons. Changing PoV or modifying the plot can lead to better stuff than before, but I’ve also headed into a disaster more than once.

      Usually I have a very vague outline of the plot when I start writing. Or more like three points: what happens in the beginning, in the middle, and the way it’s (probably) going to end. Then I always have a point to work towards, but what falls in the middle can be anything.

      With characters, I don’t like those height/weight/hair color charts either. “Brown hair, average height” could apply to about a dozen people I know. So I try to look for longer, more detailed character sheets with proper questions. About the character’s family, childhood, favorite hobbies, “what would you do if…” etc. Also character interviews can help. Not the ones where we scream at them on the pages, but for example I once wrote a short piece where two characters got interviewed for the radio. It was fun and informative, even though in reality (well, their reality) they would have never gone on radio and talked about the things they did.

      But I have to admit I don’t always plan a lot. Sometimes I have a vague idea of a character and just start writing to see how they shape up and then fill the character sheet later. It can lead to inconsistency but a few rounds of editing and modifying the sheet should do it.

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