Monday, December 16, 2019

When Your Characters Take Over the Story

Congratulations to Diana Derringer and Melissa Henderson, winners of Murder in the Family by Ramona Richards. Ladies, please email your mailing address to andreamerrell7 @ gmail (dot) com.

By Andrea Merrell

As fiction writers, we know our characters well. We’re familiar with their background, their habits (good and bad), their quirks, hang-ups, desires, fears, and passions. We converse with them during the day and dream about them at night. Sometimes they’re more familiar to us than our own friends and relatives.

At times, we have to poke and prod our protagonist to do what we want her to do. We have to pull her out of her comfort zone and point her in the right direction. The same with our antagonist. Maybe he wants to move too soon or be more aggressive than we allow.

Generally, our characters will follow along as our story unfolds. But what happens when the characters have their own little pow-wow and take over the story? You might have a perfectly good plot in mind, but suddenly your protag has another idea. Now she’s pulling you along instead of vice versa. She’s surprising you by doing things that are out of character for her … and you’re loving it.

This is much easier for a panster (seat-of-the-pants writer). We love to jump on the bus and see where the driver takes us. Sometimes we have no destination in mind. We’re excited to enjoy the ride and explore the stops all along the way. Without a GPS to guide us, we’re content, eager to see where we end up.

At this point, I’m sure all you plotters are breaking out in a cold sweat. “What?” you say. “You can’t write like that. Where’s your outline? Don’t you at least have a storyboard? You must know the end before you even begin.”

Then there are the plansters, those who enjoy the best of both worlds. Many writers fall easily into this category.

There are pros and cons to each category, so you have to find what works best for you. But no matter which category fits you best, don’t be afraid to be spontaneous. As your story evolves, so do your characters. Trust them. Trust your instincts. Take the journey with them and see what happens. You just might be pleasantly surprised at the outcome.

What about you. Have your characters ever hijacked your plot? What did you do when it happened? We would love to hear from you.

(Photo courtesy of and Stuart Miles.)



  1. I love when the characters take over. Sometimes I have to rearrange their rants to other chapters to better suit the storyline. I discover things about my characters I didn't know that help me layer the story more effectively.

    1. So true. It's an exciting ride. Blessings and Merry Christmas! :)

  2. I love how characters have a life of their own. :-)

    1. Me too, Melissa. Don't forget to send me your address for your copy of Ramona's book. Blessings and Merry Christmas! :)