Character Hijacking

I don’t always know how my stories are going to work out.  In fact, I don’t usually know.  This is due, in large part, to my characters.   As my characters grow and are developed, I learn more about them, more about their backgrounds, and they begin to take on lives of their own.  This makes them more believable as real individuals, but has a rather interesting side effect: they frequently hijack the story.  And they don’t always let me in on things until it becomes unavoidably necessary.

There were several instances of this in Alyraekas, the book I just completed.   As with many of my stories, I began Alyraekas with a vague outline of a plot (in my head only; I never outline for real).  The problem was, there was a rather large conflict and I didn’t quite have the cause of the conflict completely hammered out.  It didn’t stop me, though.  Alyraekas was the book that had won out in the decision making process, and I would proceed with it whether I knew all the details or not.  At least I knew all of the important characters and the parts they needed to play.  Or rather, I thought I did.  Some one hundred or more pages into the book, this character pops into my head and, essentially, said to me “I’m going to be in this book.”  I told him he was crazy.  Didn’t he see how far into the book I already was?  There was no way I could write him in as an important character.  But he insisted, “I am going to be in this book.”  We argued this back and forth in my head for several days.  Then, when I utterly put my foot down and insisted he would not be in my book, the impertinent creature said to me, “Not only am I going to be in this book, but I am going to be the central figure.  Everything is going to revolve around me.”  And just like that, while I was sputtering over his nerve, that major conflict in my story started to sort itself out.  Pieces fell into place.  Things started taking shape and making sense…and they all revolved around him.   I’m glad he was so insistent, because it turns out I needed him.

From the beginning of Alyraekas, I knew not all of the characters were going to survive.  While I always hate it when authors kill off characters, I tend to do the same thing.  Call me a hypocrite.  Maybe I am.  There was one character that I knew would not survive the book, knew it from the beginning and never wavered.  Well, not much.  I always have moments of rose-colored weakness where I don’t want the heartache of writing off (literally) one of my characters.  But, for the sake of providing those emotional sucker-punches that readers secretly and sadistically love, I stick to the plan.  There were several characters, however, whose fate I couldn’t seem to determine.  I had to wait to see what they would say.  Because I knew that if I tried to force it one way or the other, they would most likely rebel and decide the other way out of spite, and that might ruin the story altogether.  So, I patiently waited…and waited…and kept writing while I waited some more, hoping they might clue me in before we actually got to the deciding moment.  Finally, there was a conversation between two of the characters, and as I typed out one specific comment, it all fell into place, and from that one comment, I knew who would live, who would not, and how the end would play out.

The final moment of character hijacking came near the very end of the book (and by very near, I mean page 348 of 365 pages).  I had sworn up and down that I was not even considering writing a sequel to Alyraekas.  In fact, I am pretty sure I had just been talking about it a few days prior.  It wasn’t that I was sick of my characters, but I felt their story had been told.  We had completed  something.  We were done.  Wrong again.  I was typing out a conversation between two characters (Rylan and Corbin), both important, both there from the beginning.  It was an almost menial part of the conversation, not meant to be important in any real way.  Rylan made a comment, threw out a random name of a random person that had never been mentioned before and had no reason to ever show up again (I hadn’t even given all that much thought to the name).  Corbin responded, and Rylan had one more thing to say on the subject and then we were supposed to move on.  But with Rylan’s last comment, all of a sudden, a whole new story line began to blossom in my mind, centered around that one random, unimportant character.   And just like that, my stand-alone book has now become a trilogy.  Who knows what my characters will decide to do next!

– S.D. Bullard

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~ by sdbullard on April 6, 2012.

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