When Your Characters Won’t Behave


by Ryan Lanz


Have you ever thought to yourself that your characters are in charge, and not you?

I once heard an interview where an author discussed his characters as if they were the ones with the quill in hand, so to speak. He went on to discuss how the characters would occasionally hijack the story and move it where they felt like. He’s not the first to discuss it this way.

To be honest, when I first heard that, I thought it was absolutely ridiculous. The characters are the clay; they are the entities being created. They have no control or power.

Truthfully, I still feel that way, but at least now I have an understanding of what they were referring to. When people talk about the characters grabbing control of the plot, they really mean (or should mean) something else. The characters aren’t grabbing control, it’s probably the writer trying to put something where it doesn’t fit.

When we create these characters, we instill in them things like goals, aspirations, quirks, personality traits, ambitions, and fears. If we create these facets strongly enough, it will stick with us for the rest of the book/story. Now, imagine that we try to make the characters do something that is out of context with the fabric of their make-up (that is, without proper set-up or foreshadowing). What will happen? Our own creative mind will nag at us. That is often taken in the form of the characters trying to wrestle back their more appropriate actions within the plot.

I contend that it’s not the characters doing anything. It’s when you try to pull something that doesn’t quite fit. Why might you do this? Perhaps because you’re stuck in the plot, and you need the character to do something that doesn’t feel right in order to get un-stuck. That’s lazy writing at the sacrifice of your characters. No wonder they “rebel.”

If my characters had actual cognizant thoughts, they would plainly understand who is in control of the story. The late Robert Jordan (an amazing writer) once said, “I created these characters, and I am an Old Testament God with my fist in the middle of their lives.” I wholeheartedly agree when it comes to my own writing. The characters don’t wrestle away anything. They’re just along for the ride.



Ryan Lanz is an avid blogger and author of The Idea Factory: 1,000 Story Ideas and Writing Prompts to Find Your Next Bestseller. You can also find him on TwitterFacebook, and Tumblr


11 thoughts on “When Your Characters Won’t Behave

  1. “The characters aren’t grabbing control, it’s probably the writer trying to put something where it doesn’t fit.” I’m with you on this. I don’t like to pretend that my characters have some type of magic sentience. I just don’t see it that way for myself.


  2. If my characters start reacting in a way I think differently, then it’s good for me. it means I didn’t create a clone of myself and I actually have a good character. An example is one of my characters who goes bad, but leaves a detailed enough log behind so his friends can defeat a man who is making a bid to take over things. All the preaching my central character did at him seems to have made some kind of impression, and he does it looking for redemption.


  3. I simply think a writer has a path in mind for their characters at the start of a story. As things really start taking on traction the story and characters may evolve a bit differently than originally planned. It’s the writer ebbing into a better flow of imagination. Hopefully.


  4. I’m in the middle on this. I place these people in the middle of something. I show them the beginning and I show them the end but I don’t tell them how to get from point A to point B. That is up to them.


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