Monday, June 6, 2011

When characters take over

Posted by: Julia Knight

I never mean for it to happen. It just does. The secondary character that I popped in for only one purpose decides to stay. Then he starts wanting to do things his way. Then he tries to take over the book. And oddly, it’s (almost) always the characters that are supposed to be Bad.

In my first book, the character Ilfayne was never supposed to be around for more than a chapter or two to throw a spanner in the works. But he was such a snide—and fun—whatsit that I kept him around. Then he kept telling me more about himself, and besides, his ego insisted I write about him! In the end, the book was more about him than anyone else.

In Ten Ruby Trick, Skrymir kept looking at me, doleful and proud, wondering why he wasn’t more part of the action. He may yet get his own book. Holden started out being the Bad Dude, but as soon as I started writing him I realised that he didn’t like what he was doing and was actually not a bad guy at heart at all. In a recently finished MS, the secondary Bad Dude refused to be all bad and insisted he had very good reasons for what he was doing. I caved, and gave him a bit of redemption.

Now, once again, a character is trying to take over. He really is the Bad Dude. He’s not nice at all. He is making my protagonists’ lives a living hell. This is possibly why I like him so much. He started off just being a guy doing his job. Not even a bad job, depending on how you look at it. But then he began whispering all his plans to me, all his devious heart’s wishes. He’s silver-tongued someone into helping him, and is a downright two-faced whatsit, never saying what he’s really thinking. Which is often along the lines of saying 'Of course, sir' while thinking ‘Fat old toad, I’ll be glad when you’re dead’. I keep wondering what he’s going to come up with next. If it weren’t for the fact I know what’s going to happen in the next scene, I’d write a book just about him.

Maybe it’s just me and bad guys, but the best part of writing a book for me is when it starts to breathe on its own, and especially those characters who just turned up originally as ‘Man who does this’ and then run rampant over my plot. Although it seems it makes me hell to watch films with, because I’m always making up little backstories to explain why X would behave like that.

So, which characters—either reading or writing them—surprised you when they came alive?


  1. Mine are prone to revolt every time I try to make them something they really don't want to do. They run the show, I just chronicle their adventures.


  2. Yeah, the people talking in my head . . . Hah! I will say this, Julia, your characters are very richly drawn, and your world building is incredible. I'm almost done with the book. It's a hefty read, that's fer sure, ya, you betcha. :0)

  3. This one character was supposed to be evil (I planned her that way)--but the moment I started writing her scenes, she was kind, caring and sweet.

    Another character who was supposed to be evil isn't really as evil as I thought she was, and she's got a lot more depth than I originally thought. She's now my favorite character...

    Anyway, great post (came across it through someone I follow on Twitter); it's spot-on.



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