Monday 30 July 2018

When Characters Have a Mind of Their Own

by Enisa Haines

I had believed myself a plotter when I wrote my first manuscript. I planned out the plot - 'What if this?' and 'What if that?' - in comprehensive detail. I knew the characters and what would happen and when and where. I worked on the outline, the events of each chapter, the synopsis. I wrote the book and I wrote it fast, but when I reached 'The End' something about the process didn't feel right. 

Image courtesy of: CCO Creative Commons

I spent many an hour wondering why. Too rigid and methodical, I realised, for a writer like me, happiest when my creativity is spontaneous. And in that happy state, my imagination let loose a vision. I saw this guy on a motor bike travelling down a winding road and I got to thinking: Who is he? Why is he on the road? Where is he going? The answers and the visions that then appeared gave me my second manuscript, and another revelation.

I'm not a plotter or a pantser, 'flying by the seat of my pants' planning only the basics or nothing at all. I'm not a plantser, plotting some of the story. I am a scener. I imagine scenes. They come in no particular order so there's some juggling done for them to make sense but they and the characters they reveal are the story.

Image courtesy of: archanN on  Wikimedia Commons 

That's not all. One day I was thinking of a character and he spoke to me. Yes, I had visualised him, a product of my imagination,  but he wanted things done his way. At first I ignored his urging - characters don't speak to their writers - and wrote the scenes as I had imagined them. But he was persistent, rejecting what I'd written so I gave in and wrote what he wanted me to write and introduced another character I had not envisaged. A character I knew immediately was pivotal to the plot and the happy-ever-after ending my hero character deserved.

I soon understood that characters, though coming into existence from my subconscious, are real in my mind. They take on a life of their own with their own thoughts and feelings and react in their own ways to situations they find themselves in. Maybe it's weird but I believe their stories are not my stories. I just write them and that, in itself, is magic.

Do your characters speak to you, ordering you to write as they want? Do you let them shape the story or do you rein them in?

Love to love: reading, immersing myself in the tales of characters imagined and yet feeling so real.

Love to laugh: at the often-strange-and-funny quirks fictional characters have.

Love to learn: about the many differences that make the characters who they are.


  1. Hi Enisa! I enjoyed your post. My characters always talk to me and I've found it really does pay to listen to what they have to say. But why do they always choose the middle of the night to make their presence felt??? :)

  2. Hi Marilyn. Middle of the night. While you're in the shower or concentrating on driving. It's always the way, isn't it? Guess they figure they are our invention and so inconveniencing us is okay.

  3. Alyssa J Montgomery30 July 2018 at 17:00

    Hi Enisa, My characters definitely talk to me. Sometimes I sit at the keyboard intent on taking a story a certain way, only to end up completely absorbed and amazed as the characters take me in an entirely different direction!

  4. Hi Alyssa. I love how the characters do that. The story always turns out better.

  5. Hi Enisa, thanks for sharing this. I found the insight you provided into the writing life of a scener fascinating.

  6. Hi Sharon. Writers are intriguing in themselves, arenta they?

  7. I'm a planster. I like to have an outline but then let them go at it how they like. It has it's frustrations too. I'm glad you were able to make sense of the scene's you see.

  8. Hi Cassandra. I think, no matter what kind of writer you are, writing does have frustrating moments. And a lot of them!


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