1. Snapshot084
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    Snapshot084 Member

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    How often do your characters decide to go off-script?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Snapshot084, Apr 20, 2014.

    I don't know how common of a problem/phenomena this is, but I frequently find myself in situations when one of my characters will say something other than what I'd intended. And then I end up changing the plot that follows afterward, because it just makes more sense that way.

    I think it was Stephen King that said he couldn't approach The Dark Tower for so many years because he was horrified at what Roland did at the end of the first book (I won't spoil it, if you haven't read it). Anyway, question is: how often do your characters decide to do whatever they want, and what's your best lucky accident that's happened like that?
     
  2. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    My characters always do that. I'm a pantser; I count on it. My best ideas almost always come to me while I'm actually writing - if I'm trying to outline, nothing comes.
     
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  3. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Same here.
     
  4. AlannaHart
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    AlannaHart Contributing Member

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    I know my characters like good friends. The same way I can predict how a very good friend will react to things, I know how my characters will. It's really only the situations I think up, and then it's like throwing a group of friends into a scene and watching how they deal. I have a good handle on their personalities but I don't know exactly what they'll say or do until the time comes.

    I have two characters who have been together a long time and care deeply for each other, but every time I give them a scene together, they end up fighting. It's tedious cause I end up rewriting entire chapters just to pussyfoot around their petty fights and get some story telling done :p

    I think all creative writing is a product of undiagnosed multiple personality disorder. It's like having different people in your head whose only outlet is through your stories.
     
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2014
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  5. Snapshot084
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    Snapshot084 Member

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    I've had characters say one thing that utterly changes the way I wanted the story to go. Offhand, I was writing the beginning of one chapter a few months ago and describing how the female lead looked as she came downstairs. Somewhere in there, I just typed out that she had a knife hidden under her shirt. I hadn't planned on writing that. It was just like, "Oh, no, I decided to pick up a weapon off-screen at some point. So, let's go from here." I could have deleted the sentence, but it felt like something she would do...just not something I'd planned for her to do. And that changed a fight later on in the book, because she was armed when I hadn't planned on her being armed.
     
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  6. Smoke Z
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    Smoke Z Active Member

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    I've been pleasantly surprised as well as irritated. They aren't my characters so I don't know them that well, but it's amazing where the conversations go.
     
  7. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I once had a minor character suddenly become the main character because his conversations and his motivation was exactly the thing I was looking for. Let's just say the-then main character wasn't at all happy about it. :D
     
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  8. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I'm a planner who's pantser-curious. (Yes, I said it. No closets of any kind for this boy!) [​IMG] ;)

    But...

    Maybe it's just the wording when these kinds of questions arise in the forum that makes it hard for me to approach the idea. Not sure. Could be. It just sounds like dissociative disorder to me.

    Not trying to be snarky, just descriptive. Seriously. Pantsers, I know how you are about your pantsing. I'm just trying to see your side of it.
    If your Snark-O-Meter™ is pinging, flick the little glass front on the meter and the needle should drop back down quickly to like a 5.5. ;)

    [​IMG]

    I get this right here. I do. But the whole "unexpected" thing.... Am I just reading too much into the wording of the question? It's happened before.* Because I've never had a moment where I looked back down at the page and thought, "WTF? That bitch is crazy! I'm'a'hafta do som'ta her. Bitch made me have to trash my chapter number two because now she talkin' about a family fortune and a child she gave away in adoption when she was fifteen and chapter two don't work no more with all that craziness. Damn. But that's some good shit, so I'll forgive you this time, Tracy. Just don't come to me later and you're a man or something, because I don't know what I'll do..."


    * Once, in a conversation long, long ago, my b/f of the time made a comment about someone being a "structure queen", which, since I wasn't, and never have been, into "dishy" or "bitchy" gay-chat, I was unfamiliar with the syntactic template and I thought it was a gay way to say O.C.D., but it actually meant (and if you're gay and of a certain age, you already know this) that the dude was always to be seen wearing only ever clothing from Structure. (At one time Structure was kinda' the A&F of its day).
     
  9. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, you have to consider that not all pantsers work the same way, either. Just as there are numerous ways of outlining, there are numerous ways of writing "on the fly". I never have to go back and rewrite because I don't let things happen that don't fit with the already-written. If it doesn't fit but I really like the idea, it goes into my To Do file and a new story is born. As I think I've said before, "pantsing" doesn't have to mean willy-nilly or massive rewrites.

    One chooses whether to herd sheep or cats - but one way or another, they get to the barn.
     
  10. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Sometimes my characters do surprise me, but more often than doing or saying something totally unexpected,. it's more about them revealing a completely new side of them that changes everything. That can be pretty frustrating or totally exhilarating, but it happens quite a bit.
     
  11. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm a mixture. I plan loosely for the entire story, and when I start a scene I plan ahead minutes at a time in terms of conversation and movement, but with a rigid frame for the overall scene. But my characters have never "surprised" me or tried to go their own way since I've largely fleshed out the entire book in my head. On the other hand I sometimes expand the role of minor characters if it will add interest or complexity.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Never. My characters are a creation of my mind, and they have no independent volition. If what I write them doing differs from an earlier vision, it's because I realize, consciously or subconsciously, that what I had originally considered was either off-character or inferior to what I actually wrote.

    Characters having a will of their own is fantasy, and not even a particularly useful fantasy.

    I take ownership of every keystroke, including the many which are mistakes.
     
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  13. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Often. My subconscious is six steps ahead of me - I'll be yelling what are you doing?! while he's going - I got it all worked out. Of course he never informs me how - he just leads me on a hot cold hunt.
    Getting warmer...warmer...warmer - oh you're hot now, you got it!
     
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  14. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    When I wrote my outline, I included some dialog and actions I thought would work well. But, when I got to that part when writing the first draft, I decided to do something different. The character slowly changed in ways I hadn't thought about earlier. And sometimes I just realized something else works better.
     
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  15. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    This! This is what I mean when I say my characters surprise me. They don't really, of course; as @Cogito says, they're creations of my mind and have no independent volition of their own. What I mean is, during the writing process, new ideas occur to me that are better, and more fitting for the characters, than any idea I may have had when I started the story. So I go that way, following the new ideas wherever they lead me. I start with character, not plot. Plot just happens - it arises from what the characters do.

    Of course, sometimes the new ideas I thought were better turn out to be not so good in the context of the whole story. This results in the wrong turns I've mentioned before when discussing my process. Scrivener has actually changed my writing process for the better, because it makes it very convenient for me to keep all the turns my characters take, in various versions of my scenes, and decide at compile time which ones to include in the final version.
     
  16. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Unless anybody else's lead protagonists have turned out to be better as Villains than as Heroes, I think I'm the one this has happened to in the biggest way ;)

    In my sci-fi project, I was originally thinking that all 4 of my lead protagonists would be good and heroic for the most part: they start out the story just trying to save their own skins, but when they find out that their captors are hurting more people than just them specifically, they instantly turn around and try to save the other victims instead of abandoning everybody else to save themselves.

    While I was brainstorming ideas for fleshing out the Captain character, I googled whether there were any tips on making female action heroes specifically convincing - in addition to the gender-neutral tips - and the one that turned out to be the most important for my story was that she be more pragmatic in a fight than most guys tend to be.

    I wrote a couple of lines where - instead of trying to escort a hostage through a shooting gallery - she simply snaps the neck of the mid-level villain she and her friends have over-powered, and I got the idea that even her own friends might be afraid of her ruthless streak. Not on their own behalf, of course, they understand that she trusts them personally not to threaten anybody she has judged not to be a threat to innocents, but they still try to make sure she doesn't go overboard when she has deemed somebody a threat that cannot be allowed to live.

    One of her friends is even a soldier: a man who understands that good people may be required to use lethal force against the wicked in order to protect the innocent, who is willing to commit such violence if he needs to, and who has been trained by the military to be physically capable of killing when it is absolutely necessary… and even he thinks that his Captain's cruelty is sociopathically unnecessary.

    I started with a standard "everyone's a hero" group that fought for Truth, Justice, and the Universal Way, and now I have a Villain Protagonist, bloodthirsty vigilante serial killer whose own friends have taken it upon themselves to act as "damage control" … and who are failing.

    One of my favorite groups dynamics is where a group of Hero Protagonists have to keep a Villain Protagonist under control as much as they fight with the Villain Antagonists - Spike from Buffy, Jayne from Firefly, Loki from Thor: Dark World (Joss Whedon loves this too ;) ), Belkar from Order of the Stick - and I realized that my own story could be a fascinating experiment to see how this dynamic looks different when the sociopath is the one in charge for a change.
     
  17. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    You don't honestly believe that the rest of us think our characters are real, do you? Yes, it's the subconscious making these changes, but because the characters are within us. So what if we say the characters are doing it? Have you never heard of metaphors? There's no need to be so literal - or disdainful.
     
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  18. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Believe it or not, there have been members who in all seriousness believed their characters took on wills of their own, and held tenaciously to that notion. Those threads undoubtedly still exist, if you can find them.

    Metaphor is great, as long as you don't stretch it past the elastic limit. It's important to remember you, and you alone, have control over how characters behave. Fo;;owing the metaphor too far can lead you to expect the situation to fix itself.

    Actually believing that characters can rebel and take over the story is something else called magical thinking, in the category called symptom.
     
  19. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    I'm one of those people who can actually understand that. Of course my characters aren't real people, and so can't have true wills of their own, but at times it can seem like that with mine. With the first novel I wrote, I had no idea my characters would surprise me - but they did, and at times I actually gasped because of what they'd said or done, as I was writing it. It was if I was reading the story instead of writing it, because it was all happening in real time. I discovered secrets, knew things about my characters I never would have known just from brainstorming.

    When I write now I'm not so surprised, because I expect them to surprise me, if that makes any sense. In fact, my characters' unexpected actions and words can tie things together - in my second novel, I'd written a character who was not right in the head, although I had no idea myself why this was. Later on - perhaps five or six chapter onwards - one of my characters told me why. So for me, it's not just that my characters surprise me. It's that they shape the world I'm creating.
     
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  20. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Way to kill the fun of it, Cog. It's just a matter of phraseology, I suppose... Even so, I have to agree with this. My characters are my creations and when they start taking a turn it's because I've caused it somewhere down the line.

    That aside, I think it is a good thing if the illusion comes up that the characters are acting on their own. It means they are maturing, filling out. You can right them for them and less for who you wanted them to be. I don't exactly have trouble with characters getting away from me though. I decide what they say and how they react. If I don't like where the story is going based on that I rethink something.
     
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  21. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Well, see.... It's statements like this that often make me think that the difference between a pantser and a planner is really just vocabulary and emphasis. What you bolded above has, of course, happened to me. I've been in the middle of a rebuild for my character Amila for months now. I doodled her one way to start (and I liked the doodle muchly), and I thought I knew how she was going to work in the story, but the story didn't allow for that doodle. I needed to draw her differently. She couldn't be soft. She needed to be a punch-thrower. And that meant more than just a change of metaphoric wardrobe. I needed the casting director to come back in.

    But I don't think of that as pantsing even though maybe some would call it that.... maybe? :oops: I call it revision of the plan.

    So, are we really doing the same thing, and you're saying tomato and I'm saying tomate ?
     
  22. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Or maybe it's like Shadowwalker says here and the whole thing is a lot more Kinseyan than most of us want to label ourselves. Perhaps we all overinvest in the idea of being a "1" or a "10" where really there are whole lot more 4's, 5's, 6's and 7's than most are willing to admit to. :)



    I know the Kinsey scale goes up to 6, not 10. I just wanted a little more room for gradation. ;)
     
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  23. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    There is some of that. I'm not an "extreme" pantser. I've said before that I start with a character, a situation, and a vague idea of an ending. If that's a plan, okay, I'm a planner. But it isn't really. I seem to be incapable of coming up with an outline - a chapter-by-chapter, scene-by-scene plan. If I try to do that (and I have tried, on a number of occasions), nothing happens. My brain stops thinking. No ideas come to me. I need to put pen to paper (figuratively) and start generating the actual text of the story in order to stimulate ideas. That's what I mean when I say I'm a pantser. I literally cannot write from a plan, because I cannot generate a plan. I just start writing, trusting to the gods that good ideas will happen in my brain if I make the effort.

    I know that outliners will revise their ideas as they write the actual text. It's natural. I'm the guy who has no outline to revise. Writing, for me, takes a lot of faith. There's only been one time faith failed me - I started with characters and a situation and an idea for an ending, started writing, and nothing happened. The characters refused to budge. I tried everything I could think of, and I couldn't come up with the story. That's the bullet in my side that tells me I'm not doing it the optimal way. But every other time I've depended on this faith, it's come through for me. My brain generated the required ideas as I wrote, and I got to the end of the story.

    So I don't think we're quite talking about the same thing. You have a plan you revise as you write; I have barely any plan at all.

    I recently began a story I dearly love. One of the two MCs is an idealistic fourteen-year-old boy named Lucas. As I was writing, I began to realize that, at the end of the story, Lucas would commit suicide. I never thought that would happen when I began the story. But he's not a tortured soul; for him, his death is a wonderful experience. It preserves him; it saves him somehow. I still haven't worked out how to write that scene, so the story is on the back burner right now, but it keeps calling me. I pick it up now and then and try. I guess I'm not ready yet to tackle it, but when I get it done, I'm going to be damn proud. I could never have come up with an idea that radical just by trying to outline. I'd need to get deep into the writing before I realized it would have to happen.

    In the meantime, I have other projects on the go. I'm wondering how they're going to turn out! :)
     
  24. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I, too, would have to be called a pantser, if I were fond of labels. I begin with the barest of character concepts, an idea of what roles they play in the story, some key event of the story, and where the story ends up. As I think about the story, I play with scenes and story directions in my head, and I start writing. The rest falls into place as the words flow. Scenes shift, scenes disappear, and the characters and the story grow and become more sharply defined.

    It's a process. It's how my intellect and imagination conspire and dance the dance. It's magical, but down to earth. I keep it real by never forgetting where it comes from, and more importantly, who is responsible for keeping it on track.
     
  25. Magnatolia
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    Magnatolia Active Member

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    I'm kind of half-panters and half-planner. I like to have a plan, but am happy to adjust it or throw it up in the air and see how it lands, if that makes sense. Sometimes I find the relationships suddenly change between my characters and I need to go back and work this in to the rest of the story. But it's usually caused by something. An argument for example, which then makes me realize I haven't done them justice earlier. I had one of my characters blow up at my main protagonist yet I never really gave that character much emotional depth, at least presented to the writer. So now I need to go back and tweak his emotional visibility along the way.
     
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