When Your Characters Lead Your Story

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Character-driven stories are always the best kind of stories.

I don’t talk to my characters (I swear!), but they do control my story more than I might let on. Characters, though fictional, are fully fleshed out people living in your universe of fiction writing if writing is what you live and breathe every day. If you’re serious about your craft, I think that you should be strongly connected with all of your characters. I might take this a step further.

I confess that often, it really is my characters that decide the direction that they will go in a story. I have heard of a few writers admit to this as well. Some writers whose blogs I have read think that this level of thinking is weird/wrong and that they as writers are always fully in control of their stories. The latter type of thinking seems too mechanical for me. I prefer to think of writing as a way to tell the stories of the people who exist in one realm of my fantasy universe.

Of course I am the one writing my story, but as a writer, I am not living this life fully on my own. These characters exist in my rich inner world and they have influence over how I write them. Writing totally is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia. Maybe this weirds you out. Perhaps you disagree. That’s okay, too. There are many different types of writers. This is how I work.

My characters do have minds of their own and I have changed the direction of nearly every story I have written because they disagreed with the direction that I was taking them in. Sometimes, I stress out about this disagreement and I hesitate to write their fate in a way that I originally planned not to.

Writing is supposed to be fun. Write what makes you want wake up in the wee hours of the morning just to finish that next chapter. Write what causes you to lay in bed at night thinking about your characters. Write something you’re passionate about.

If that means that you talk to your characters or if that means that you let your characters choose certain paths for themselves, then let it be.

Writers, do you ever feel a character pulling you in the opposite direction of where you want them to go? Do you feel them have a mind of their own? Do you think all of this is simply weirdness? 

(Photo Source: http://www.everystockphoto.com by Shandi-lee)

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23 thoughts on “When Your Characters Lead Your Story

  1. I completely agree with the fact that characters tend to take on a life of their own and pull you in a different direction that the one you wanted them to take. I don’t write that much fiction but I’ve experienced this every time I have. I do think it’s a good idea to listen to your characters, after all, they should know what’s best for them, right? 😉

  2. My characters definitely decide the direction my story will take.

    As I write my vampire novel, I have no idea how the story will go or turn out.

    Things always seem to work out in the end though as everything seems to make coherent sense by the end of the story.

  3. I couldn’t agree more with your position on characters writing their story, Sara. It’s the way most of my stories go as the characters develop and take on more depth. It seems when they become fully developed in my mind that they take ownership of the story and it’s their guidance to me that determines how the story will go in the end. Plan as I might, they have a lot of influence because they know their story well.

    1. Yes, I thought of you even recently mentioning how Gunnar and Sari decided the way in which they wanted to go for your Melancholia story. It’s true, you as a writer have the vision of the story in mind, and your inspiration is what fuels your writing, and yet it’s truly the characters that give each story lifeblood. They really do know their story well, and writers must listen to them. You as a writer do this very well. 🙂

      1. Thank you, Sara! It is very important to me to let the characters lead the story because I write in an unstructured way. If I was a professional that followed a structure, I might never feel the life in my characters. They would be processes instead of literary living beings to me and I don’t think I could write at all or at least write anything interesting. I actually feel like it benefits me a great deal to let my subconscious give the characters life and to consider their stories like I was a journalist recording their life as they tell it. I think the reason I find your writing so captivating, is you give your characters life and they feel authentic to me.

      2. You’ve just covered what literary fiction is vs. commercial fiction! 😀 Hehe I am excited that you understand the merit in not following a strict outline in your writing. Many writers of commercial fiction who can pop out 2-3 novels per year have to stick to an outline, and I find that you can notice the lack of art and emotion in their writing, even if the plots are intense.
        It’s a really great way that you’ve put it where you see yourself as a journalist documenting the lives of your literary beings.
        I am very, very happy that you feel the life in my characters. I try very much to show that life that I feel from them in my writing.

  4. I am experimenting with making things up. This helps me visualize the possibilities. I feel other characters should take the lead. I love these lines: “Write what makes you want wake up in the wee hours of the morning just to finish that next chapter. Write what causes you to lay in bed at night thinking about your characters. Write something you’re passionate about.”

      1. Yes, I have to get started on that. Recently, I wrote a piece, which was based on fact, but where I allowed myself to embellish. It was an odd feeling, but one I feel the need to pursue. As for your question, I have written many books, some of which have fiction in them, actually there is a lot of fiction, but I think I am going to make a jump into the realm of characters and what they might be thinking and doing. This adds exponential and varied possibilities.

      2. That’s awesome you’ve written many books. So, you are most certainly a writer. I love how you’re discovering the “making stuff up” side of writing. There are so many possibilities once you add characters into the mix.
        Happy writing! 🙂

    1. Haha well, that would actually be a very interesting idea! I have never thought of that and maybe that might help bring some more traffic to my book. I’ve thought of doing vlogs before. 😀 Thank you for the idea!

      1. What I like about the idea, is that it brings you into the picture. A friend of mine, who is here on WordPress reads her poetry and in her reading you learn where her perfection comes from. Her words and phrases are like equidistant lines in space.

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