When Characters Become Sentient

characters-dreamstime_xs_11825796Good characterization creates sentient beings who start to have minds of their own. It’s good for the author to listen, for they may have ideas that actually make the story better, as long as these ideas work with the whole.

Early on in my novel, I had a protagonist decide he’s a musician (so music became the passion that supported the theme). Later, two very minor characters designed the colours and atmosphere of their own house, which affected their son, a major supporting character to the protagonist, and still later, this same supporting character defined his attitude toward the protagonist through a character arc that led to a better, more complete ending I never could have drafted in the beginning.

“You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.” ~Saul Bellow

A writing colleague had two very minor characters waltz in and demand bigger roles. Their unique (and in one case, eccentric) personalities, magnetism, backstory, and purpose greatly enhanced the story and strengthened relationships with the major characters. The author was quite worried about this surprising–and forceful–push for the change. But the characters played nice with the story arc and themes (though she gave them a map), and they fit in perfectly. The results were spectacular.

“Story structure is about plight, not plot.” ~Michael Dellert

I have written on this topic before

Related post from the blog series Snippets of An Author’s Life

Today’s anecdotal post was inspired by K.M. Weiland’s recent post, Are You Being Too Much of a Control Freak About Your Characters?, which offers practical advice about this all too familiar phenomenon.

About Eva Blaskovic

I am a multi-genre author of literary fiction and fantasy, and writer of non-fiction articles on parenting, writing, education, health, and travel. My background encompasses both the sciences and the arts. I teach at a specialized clinic for learning difficulties and mentor young authors. In addition to writing and teaching, my passions are weather, Indian food, gardening, and music. I have played eight musical instruments and spent many years immersed in taekwondo and karate. In my youth, I was an avid canoeist. I was born in Prague, Czech Republic, grew up in Ontario, Canada, and moved to Alberta in 1988, where I raised four children.
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7 Responses to When Characters Become Sentient

  1. vinnieh says:

    Your blog is so endlessly fascinating and readable.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My first novel was headed for a pessimistic, even tragic ending until a minor character said something about a main character that I didn’t know she knew. It changed everything. The novel turned out to be a pretty optimistic take on what can happen when people come through for each other. In my second, currently in progress, a key part of the backstory is a blank. One participant has no recollection of what happened, the other won’t talk, and a couple of others are trying to figure it out from the outside. The thing is, I still don’t know the whole story either, even though I’m halfway through the third draft. The characters and I are gradually working it out.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: June 2017 Roundup: Writing | Beyond the Precipice

  4. Pingback: A Story Is Driven By Characters, Not Plot | Beyond the Precipice

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