Trust Your Characters
Some authors believe their characters exist in another world, living their lives independently of what the author is doing and writing their characters as doing anything out of character breaks the link they have with that other world. While that is highly unlikely, it makes for a colorful mental image of the worlds we create in our minds and the lives characters continue to live when we aren’t actively thinking about them. In our sleep and other idle moments of chaotic contemplation we keep developing and growing our characters, and when we force them to do something they wouldn’t do we run into writers block or start writing meaningless side content that ultimately needs to be cut out.
“In real life people do occasionally act out of character or do things we wouldn’t normally expect them to do. In fiction, there should be a good reason for a character to do something outside of the ordinary.”
― Craig Hart, The Writer’s Tune-up Manual: 35 Exercises That Will Scrape the Rust Off Your Writing
If we trust them, these characters can be a wonderful aid, helping think up plot developments you’d never dreamed on your own, plot elements that will feel organic to the reader. The most direct technique to accessing the power of your characters is free writing, not planning things out ahead of time and just letting your character(s) do what they do, go where they would go. This can be very liberating to many authors as they don’t need to think of everything before they write it, exploring their literary landscape through their character. But it can also be quite terrifying for many, writing into the unknown. I suggest you try it, and trust your characters.
If free writing doesn’t fit for you or you need more structure there is another option. Want to know what your character thinks about something, or what they would do in a given situation, or even why they won’t go fight their father in the epic duel you had planned? Try asking them. I know it sounds a little strange, but I mean it. The second major way to access the power of your characters is to conduct an interview or conversation with them.
A Character Interview can be quite helpful in many ways. You can learn much more about the world you have created, the reasonings and web of relations between your characters, and even learn what they want to do by actually asking them and having them respond. For full details on how to conduct a Character Interview, as well as many other character building exercises, check out our Write At It Volume 1: It Builds Character which is available free to all of our newsletter subscribers.
A bit of a cross between these two techniques is the Character Journal. Write some journal entries from the perspective of your character while they are undergoing various parts of the story. This is generally not intended for inclusion in the book itself, though might work its way into some stories. By getting into your character’s head and thought processes you can portray more genuine reactions (and Character Journals make for great bonus material to provide dedicated fans).
Lastly, even if your actual story arc requires more structure, consider free writing extra short stories in which you explore the events which happen to your characters but that aren’t needed in the story proper. Like Character Journals, these too will shine new light on the character for yourself and provide material you can post for fans.
What this all boils down to is learning to trust your characters. You created them, they live and grow in your mind. Trust them. Listen to them. They want to help you tell their story.