La, la, la, la, la, la, la la, …. No, not the Kylie song. What I’m talking about is character invasion.
Many years ago, I started subscribing to Writing Magazine. I lapped it all up but what particularly interested me were the interviews with writers, particularly when they revealed the inspiration behind their plot and/or their characters. One thing I just couldn’t get my head around, though, was when writers described their characters talking to them, taking the plot in a direction they’d never planned and/or new or minor characters suddenly bigging up their parts. “Crazy people,” I’d mutter under my breath.
Then something strange happened … I became one of those “crazy people”.
If you’ve read my story on this blog, you’ll know I’ve been working on my novel for about a decade and, whilst the premise and the protagonist have always remained the same, the story has gone through many incarnations. In one of these incarnations, I had a character called Simon. The idea was that my protagonist, Sarah, would get together with Simon but he’d turn out to be still smitten with his ex. The reader would discover that he’d been attracted to Sarah because she looked like his ex. Simon was meant to be quite a nice bloke; just on the rebound and it would all work out fine because he wasn’t the one for Sarah anyway. Only Simon didn’t like his “nice bloke” image. He wanted to be mean. Really mean. The story took an unexpected turn with poor Sarah discovering his obsession with his ex by staying at his house one night and entering the spare bedroom instead of the bathroom only to find a wall plastered with photos of the ex (imagine a stalker’s wall in a thriller or crime drama). Other possessions of the ex – perfume, toothbrush, nightshirt, teddy – were all carefully arranged like a shrine. After fleeing the house, Simon bombarded her with phone messages and texts before turning up at her place of work with a knife and sinister intentions.
Whoa, whoa, whoa! Where on earth did that personality and plot line come from?! Yes, with a rub of his hands and an evil glint in his eye, Simon had completely taken over. It was as though he had a life of his own and wanted a completely different persona and direction to what I had planned. For that, I had to punish him. He got written out of the story. A stalker with a knife wasn’t quite the angle I was going for in a lighthearted romantic comedy!
I have to confess that Simon didn’t actually “talk” to me. Not sure I’m quite into “hearing voices” territory … yet! But I did now understand what those writers meant about their characters taking over because it had just happened to me.
I once read a writer interview that fascinated me but I’m afraid I can’t remember who it was on (sorry – I know that’s useless). All I can say is it was a he and he writes thrillers. He described a novel he was once writing which involved a jaded detective driving up to a house in the middle of nowhere. It seemed deserted. He parked his car. As he got out, he noticed there was a little girl sat on a nearby wall who asked him a question. He hadn’t planned for there to be a little girl but there she was. And suddenly he realised she was far more interesting than the jaded detective. So he scrapped the book. All was not lost, though; the girl became a key character in his next novel. This really struck a chord with me.
Characters are what make a book. You need to care about the protagonist(s) to want to follow them on their journey and keep page after page turning. If your secondary characters or even very minor ones are more interesting than your main ones, perhaps theirs are the stories to tell instead, especially if you simply can’t get them out of your head. Maybe it’s time to get them onto paper instead. Simon, I haven’t forgotten you. Your day in print will come. Just not in Sarah’s story. Or the other two in the trilogy. But don’t give up hope, you crazy person you!
Oh no! I started this post by saying that characters talking to a writer may seem a little crazy and have ended it talking to my characters. Is that a white van that’s pulled up outside with men in white coats getting out?
Have your characters ever talked to you? Has a new character suddenly appeared out of nowhere and taken over? I’d love to hear about it.
Thanks for reading