I’ve Lost Control of My Characters

Most of my characters are based on a living, breathing human being. For the protagonist of my YA novel, I started out borrowing a lot of things from myself—geographic location, love of science fiction, need for chocolate. I took my mom’s job and gave it to her mom. The character who mentors my protagonist is based on a bestselling author, and the protagonist’s brother has several physical and personality characteristics in common with my son. I’ve even borrowed from someone without realizing it. My protagonist’s new friend? Turns out she’s my neighbor.

Image courtesy of jannoon028 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of jannoon028 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

But no matter how much time I spend constructing characters, no matter how much I attempt to control every detail about them, there’s a point when they take on a life of their own. They’re no longer the person I borrowed from. They start telling me what they like, what they don’t like, and what they will or won’t do. They start protesting the dialogue I’ve written for them, pointing out they would never say that. They show up in a scene they weren’t supposed to be a part of or they suddenly refuse to exit on cue.

Writing becomes more of a challenge than usual when things don’t go according to plan, but those uncooperative characters bring depth and momentum to the story that wouldn’t be there otherwise. So I don’t mind too much that I’ve lost control of them. I think they’re doing a pretty good job of telling their own story.

©2013 Kim Vandel

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