Yes, as you no doubt know by now, I actually like it when my characters get loose and romp around on their own, but had anyone told me this when I first took up a pen at some ridiculously young age and dared to dream that I might one day become a writer, I might have found this side of things a tad daunting. “What do you mean, they get loose?” I might have asked. “How do you control them once they get out? How do you get them back in again?”
Having leant what I have, now my question would be why would anyone want to control or rein in such creativity?
When I was still learning my craft, many years before publishing my first book, Morragt was the first to break loose.
That’s right, the great Chiddran seer from the first book of The Khekarian Series, The Khekarian Threat, was originally just a shopkeeper, a small secondary character there solely to give Aleisha someone to briefly connect with and flesh out the small town of Martin’s Wait.
It was my very first version of The Khekarian Threat, my first attempt at a “big book”. When he went off on a tangent, I didn’t know what was happening, I wasn’t sure that I should even let it continue – and I almost stopped it. The thing was, it intrigued me a bit and I wondered where it would go. I knew that I could strip it all out if it went too astray or if it hit a dead-end. Only it didn’t hit a dead-end, it produced a very rich character and gave a very rich background that over the following years expanded to encompass one-third of the galaxy, produced the Khekarian-Chiddran war, brought in an edge-of-and-beyond-physical-plane element, and ended up booting Sturn into a top ranking royal, which gave him the power to be an excellent Bad Guy. All of this also led to the Khekarian Series, it was no longer just one book.
Not bad for one minor character going his own way.
It was because of that very evolution that I now so trust the process. When it happens, I not only let it, I rejoice in it. It doesn’t matter that I don’t know at the time where it will lead – it will lead to great things.
Way back then, when it first happened and took me by surprise, I wanted it to happen again. I found, though, that I could not make it happen, ever. It has to be spontaneous.
And spontaneous it became:
- Morragt became more than a shopkeeper – and lifted the story from a single planet and a single book, and into the galaxy and a series.
- Jim didn’t want to be a bad guy, he swapped sides, and to this day tells his own jokes – jokes I haven’t heard before.
- Sevi wanted to keep a high standard of professionalism and kept trying to take it to “the next level” whenever anybody stepped out of line – meaning I had to rein them in, not her. As a bodyguard to an elite royal, she took her job very seriously and would never tolerate an attack on him (Sturn). She would not only take out any offender, if it was a team member, the whole team would go.
- Ialle introduced his own scar – I hadn’t planned it – and in so doing, brought in Shalsey and his entire story in book two, The King’s Sacrifice. That was another big one and one of my favorites.
- Va’el (the latest to run wild) has erupted (in book two), bigger than his own boots with enough attitude to cause mayhem for a long time – I’m seriously looking forward to learning the extent of what he has to offer. It won’t be pretty.
With the exception of Va’el, who has not had the chance yet to prove himself, every single example above led to a better and deeper story. I don’t expect any less of Va’el.
I am convinced it happens more often because I ran with it in the first place and now trust it.
Without a doubt, giving characters their freedom has allowed them to lead me to places I would never think to visit. They’ve given me twists and turns to a plot that I did not expect to find, and nuances that enhance to a level I could have dreamed of.
So, yes, I love it when that happens, but is it mayhem? No, it’s not. They stay true to form and romp within the limitations natural to them. Each of these characters expand on themselves but remain true to themselves, they are running with something inside of them.
Is it a challenge? How can they be left to run loose without seriously compromising the story I am trying to tell? Well, they can’t, their expansion absolutely causes many challenges, but isn’t writing a story a challenge in any case? How many stories are, on completion, the same as they started out? I’ve heard the same said about art, that when one color goes down next to another, it draws new meaning and influences the painter, so a painting, like a story, evolves. It’s as it should be and makes the process a living thing.
What about professionalism? Is that what it is? I used to wonder about that, but now I feel that yes, it is. I believe that when characters break loose like that and present to the writer possibilities, it is because the writer has enough information on them in the first place to allow them autonomy. The writer knows them and therefore, it comes as no surprise when they act a certain way even if it goes “against” the plot. Then again, many of mine have surprised me, so “knowing them” might be on a deeper level. It certainly works for me.
I do know it’s a lot easier to work with them than against them and gives me an adventure as well. It adds to the fun.
I would love to hear similar experiences. To the writers out there, has this happened to you? Do you like it when it happens? Do you hate it? Does it make you laugh? Or does it spook you a little? Do you see it as inspiration?
To the non-writers out there, does this sound interesting? A good thing? A bad thing? A funny thing, or a “This writer has gone crazy” sort of thing? Has it happened to you in a different field or a different way? Think about it.
We are all of us spontaneous, so that reflect in our creativity, no matter where our talents lie. It can’t be something that just happens to me… yet, it’s not something you hear a lot about. Maybe that’s why it fascinates me and why I return to it from time to time in this blog.