Literary Photobomb

Are your characters plotting against you?

Is your main character as dull as ditchwater?

Do your side characters tend to step in front of the camera a scream for attention?

Does your central romance have less steam and zest than the pickle merchant on page 7?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, it may be time to rethink your story.

Lately I’ve spent time on some online writer forums. The writers chatting online agree that the secondary side characters are having more fun -and are more interesting- than their main characters.

This would not be a problem, except that the story is supposed to be about the main characters, not the secondary ones.

Writer: “This story is about a passionate triangle between forbidden international lovers! Not the gossip of a sidestreet pickle vendor!”

Really? Why not? That pickle vendor story sounds really cool.

When your characters stage a coup, don’t be alarmed. This is a good thing.

If these imaginary people have taken on a life of their own, this means you have done your job well. You have created a host of convincing people who are capable of acting under their own volition.

Good job, writer. Pat yourself on the back.

Although this may not be comforting when the street urchins from chapter 3 are chewing holes in your plot.

That’s simple. Change the characters. Go back and do a rewrite. Force the characters to act under your dominion.

But do you really want to?

There is another alternative, if you really want it.

You can allow the characters to wreck the grand story you had planned. Allow them to run wherever they like and follow them wherever they go.

The story your characters show to you may not be as good as the one you had planned, but it may be a heck of a lot more fun.

Remember, (spoiler alert) these characters don’t really exist. They are a projection of your conscious or subconscious mind. They can’t go anywhere that your mind won’t let them go. In letting your characters take the lead, you are not relinquishing your authority, (ooh, that’s a nice pun) but transferring the power to your subconscious mind, which may know better than your conscious one.

This deserves it’s own blog post sometime: many ongoing stories (such as TV shows) are written with a bland primary character who is constantly overshadowed by multiple side characters.

Think about it. Think of your favorite show. Is your favorite character the main character, or is it a secondary character who has more personality?

This bland character is known as the Everyman. He is designed to relate to as many people as possible. The most perfect example of such an Everyman character is Charlie Brown from the legendary comic strip Peanuts.

Charlie Brown is not the most interesting character, but he ties together the odd characters of the strip, who outshine him at every turn.

It’s brilliant.

So should you allow your characters to run wild?

That’s your own decision.

Then again, maybe it’s your characters’ decision. -BW

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