Day 7: The curious case of character development

One of the things that people tell you about writing a novel in 30 days without planning it in advance–otherwise known as “pantsing,” like flying by the seat of your pants–is that if you keep plugging away at it, eventually your story will begin to develop in ways that surprise you. Your characters will grow opinions of their own, and demand to go in a particular direction, or get bored and do something unexpected.

Because I’ve always tried to plan exactly where my story should go, I’ve never had the opportunity to test that theory of writing. But because I’m pantsing it a little this time around, having some idea of where my story should end up but no idea what will happen to get it there, I’ve reached the point where I can’t control everything.

Sometimes, I hit moments where I ask myself, “What happens now?” and nothing comes to mind. I jump around between characters, and in those moments I just choose a character that I haven’t visited in a while and decide what they’re up to in that moment.

But now that I’ve written so much that major events have happened and the plot is moving forward, there are times when I’m writing dialogue and it is coming out differently than I expected. For example, I have several scenes between two characters that were merely acquaintances until the previous few days within the story. They start to relate much more like friends, as one of them prepares to be reunited with his trilogy-long love interest. And then, as they’re discussing things, there starts to be a very notable more-than-friends vibe there.

As crazy as I feel trying to explain it, it really did feel like these characters I was writing wanted to go in that direction, even though I did not want them to because it would screw up my plot. I settled on a compromise, leaving enough vibes there to give future readers non-canon opportunities for fanfiction and the like, but without taking the story in a drastically new direction.

It surprised me quite a bit though, to have the feeling that my characters were in a position to want or demand anything, these people who don’t exist outside of my mind yet. I know that the idea that characters are nudging me in a direction could also be considered a flash of inspiration, that I may choose to use or ignore. But I also believe in magic, and if there is such a thing as writing magic, it happens when characters suddenly have to do something I never wanted them to do, because it makes the most sense for them.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever written that you never intended to happen in a story?

Today’s word count: 3,053

Total word count: 25,308

Today’s excerpt: She grinned at him this time, reaching a hand up to touch his face. “Of course I like you. Why else do you think I watched all those terrible movies?”

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Day 7: The curious case of character development

4 thoughts on “Day 7: The curious case of character development

  1. I struggle with characters taking on a life of their own all the time. I plot very loosely so all my dialogue and interactions come as a surprise. One time someone that was meant to be a very minor character suddenly did something completely important and they were such a good character that they’ve now become one of the major ones. We think we’ve got things all planned out but what we don’t realise is that our minds are working behind the scenes to bring life to these characters. Maybe you should let things go there if it’s bugging you so much and see where it eventually leads you? If nothing else readers seem to love a triangle.

    1. Toni Travis says:

      I ended up writing an alternate version of the scene that wanted to happen differently. I left it in the novel but whited out the font, so it exists but doesn’t. Lol. Then again, I’m someone who makes 20 versions of one graphic and saves them all in case I change my mind later, so…I’m leaving the option open in case I want to explore that further. I enjoy writing more when I go where the characters lead, as it turns out. 🙂

  2. This. I mean, really. My character’s (even when I’m writing fan-fiction) do things I don’t expect and am not prepared for all the time. It’s the beauty about writing–you’re not really writing them as much as they are writing themselves. So, yeah, they surprise you. Plot points creep up you hadn’t even imagined. 🙂

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