When the character took control

No one was more surprised than I was when my character took control of the scene in the book I’m currently writing.

There I was, typing away. The scene was set. My characters were interacting, and then my heroine made an unexpected move. It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? I recalled webinars that discussed the possibility that characters take control of the story.

Robert McKee, a respected “story guru,” says there’s nothing “mystical” about this. He writesThe writer’s task is to structure story events and design the supporting cast to draw out the character’s true nature.

McKee credits research for this character-driven phenomenon. It happens when the writer’s knowledge of the subject and of the characters results in something that seems spontaneous — but is actually the result of research and hard work.

He’s right about that. Before I began writing Book #2, I did my homework. I read about the subject, the culture and social conventions of the time. I researched immigration trends in the 19th century, as well as the battles of the Civil War (still need to do more work there..) and the effects of the war on veterans. I wanted to understand what it was like to live in post-Civil War America.

More importantly, I completed extensive character profiles for the story. Those profiles helped me to understand my characters: what drove them, what inspired them, and what frightened them. I outlined everything from eye color and body type to education and experiences. The character profiles helped me get to know the protagonists, the antagonists and the support characters — including the heroine’s dog. (Of course there’s a dog in the story.)

Then, when I began writing book #2, some of those character attributes changed as their story lines played out. But sometimes those character attributes are driving the story line. That’s what happened in the “first kiss” scene. No one was more surprised than I was — except, maybe, the character who was kissed. My character took control.

Writing is fun, especially when something unexpected happens. As they used to say in television shows of days gone by, “stay tuned for more.”