When Characters Run Wild with Your Story

What to Do When Characters Go Rogue

You create a strong, coherent character that has enough interest for you to include them in your story. And then, they do more. They take action and run with the story. They barge into scenes. They interrupt dialogue. As a result, the characters and the storyline get bumped.

The Good Problem

A rogue character is a sign of your ability to create a strong character, so don’t be discouraged. Strong characters are a good problem. A rogue character is a sign of your character development success.

Three Reasons Characters Go Rogue

One main reason characters bump the storyline is strong goals and strong motivations. When you understand your character’s motivation to reach a goal, they will act to reach that goal through strong motivations. As you write, the motivations are first in your mind. You follow those motivations and the character acts (including dialogue) in ways prompted by the motivation but not according to your storyline.

Steps to Align Your Characters and Story

When you feel a character is taking over, the first step is to stop writing.

Character Development Revamp

Go back to your character development and work on your main characters. Give them strong story goals that will drive them through the story. Examine their deep motivations. For example, not just catch the killer in a mystery, but how catching the killer fits with their values and life goals.

Beef Up the Storyline

If what your main character is doing seems a bit dull, spice it up. Add more conflict. Make sure the stakes get higher as the story progresses. Brainstorm some clever twists. Then work them into your protagonist’s goals, motivation, and passion.

Accommodate the Rogue Character

If your running wild character is strong, give them a subplot. Of course, it needs to align with the main storyline, but weave their subplot into the main story. Make sure the plotline and character arc of the subplot are strong, deserving a place in your main story.

The Future Story

Pull back the reins on the rogue character in this story and save all the dimensions, goals, and motivations for another story featuring this character as the protagonist. You’ll have ample opportunity to work with this character.

The Hard Call Rewrite

In this case, you make the rogue character the main protagonist and build the story around their goals and motivations. This is a hard call because essentially you’ll be creating a new story. The plotline will change around the new protagonist’s story arc. This option should only be considered when you’ve tried the other solutions because you’re tearing up a lot of work you’ve already done. You are starting over.

Play With Your Strengths

Congratulate yourself on creating a strong character when you sense a character taking over your story. Then stop to evaluate what causes this character to derail the story. Work through the causes to arrive at the best solution for your story.

Mystery author Zara Altair writes clues for writers who want to write a great mystery. http://bit.ly/KillerMystery

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