Listen to your characters, but don’t let them run away

Nathan Bransford, TVWriter™’s favorite publishing know-it-all, has an important lesson about characterization for all of us who spend our days writing fiction of any kind.

by Nathan Bransford

Nearly everyone who has written a novel has had the experience of writing an unruly character who suddenly takes the story in a different direction than you anticipated. Even the best outline can quickly go up in smoke.

This is a good sign! It means you’re listening to the internal logic of the character and you’re adjusting accordingly.

At the same time, it’s risky to lose control of a character and let them run away with your novel. You might fall in love with a minor character a little too hard, or halfway through the book you might start writing a different novel than the one you started.

Here’s some advice for walking that fine line between being true to a character and letting them run roughshod over your novel.

Look carefully at the moment the character broke free

Chances are there’s a particular moment where a character will bounce out of the frame you’d put them in. Stop for a sec and think about what really happened there.

Ask yourself some questions:

  • Is the plotline you were envisioning not true to the character?
  • Did you make an important discovery about the character that needs to be woven through the rest of the novel?
  • Is this the real beginning of the story?
  • Did you just find the real voice of the novel?
  • Did the character suddenly become active and before they were too passive?

And perhaps most importantly, ask yourself….

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For my best advice, check out Nathan’s guide to writing a novel (now available in audio) and his guide to publishing a book.

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