The Sudden (and Unexpected) Appearance of Important Characters

For the majority of my fledgling writing career, I would suddenly get an idea and take off running with it. There was never any planning involved, very little coordination, and typically no over-arching plot or even a proper villain. That’s the problem with being character-centric. If all of your focus is on the people and their relationships, you end up with a story which doesn’t really go anywhere (most of the time. I’ve got one half-finished story from those days which might someday go somewhere, but that was pure luck).

That all changed after I got serious about writing and finished my first manuscript. I spent four years writing, rewriting and re-rewriting the same novel. I came to rely on knowing what was going to happen in the story, and so when it was finally complete and the next new idea hit me, I felt paralyzed. Because I had these lovely characters who I wanted so badly to bring to life. But for the first time ever, I didn’t feel comfortable diving head-first into a manuscript.

Oh, I tried to force myself. It resulted in my having a meltdown around Chapter Five where I had no idea what I was doing or how I was going to get these characters to the end-goal. Luckily I’m married  to one of the greatest men on the planet, and he sat me down and started asking questions about what I was trying to do. Then we drew the map of the world, figured out where the characters were traveling to and why they were going there, and suddenly I had my plot. So I quickly rewrote those first five chapters, and in the last month I’ve written four more, and am still going strong. In this sense, having a plot has completely freed me. I’m no longer crippled by the unknown, by the endless possibilities of what could happen.

But even though all that is true, I still sometimes manage to surprise myself.

When I have a strong overall idea of what I want to do with the story, I frequently find myself banging out words on my keyboard as quickly as I can think them. Certainly I still have moments where I stare at the page, trying to find that one sentence which will make the whole chapter work. But then there are times when it feels as though the words are showing up on the screen before the idea even comes into my head.

That happened to me yesterday. Without meaning to I wrote myself the fourth most important character of the series, and before she was there I didn’t even know that I needed her.

So now I’m left with the question of what to do with her. I know what part she’s going to play in later books. What I don’t know is how much involvement I want her to have in this book. Should I leave her where she is, and have her patiently waiting for me when I truly need her? Or, if she is as important as I think she’s going to be, should I pull her into the plot of this book as well?

It comes down to a question of, what purpose would that serve? It would prepare the audience for her to become important later. And it could provide opportunities for some dramatic interaction. But as far as the plot is concerned, she’s not needed for the characters to achieve the goal of this book. I have to decide if it is better to build her up now, or hold her in reserve for book two. It’s something that I’m going to have to think about, something I’m going to have to discuss with my husband and my betas.

What I’m wondering is, how do you all deal with the unexpected coming to life in your writing? Do you simply wrestle it into place, stick strictly to your plan, and not let anything slow you down? Or do you pause and consider the benefits of switching things up? Obviously in our writing we are the ones in control, but how much do you allow yourself to deviate from The Plan (if you have one)?

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