When Characters Misbehave
(Cross-posted from the WriteClub blog)
Sometimes no matter how carefully you plan, your characters refuse to follow the path you’ve set for them. And if they are insistent on misbehaving in this way, it often means you have to rethink your plot structure accordingly.
When I created my amateur sleuth, I had in mind she’d be a single, independent minded girl. I didn’t want her tied to the obligation of a committed relationship.
In truth, I am not a big fan of romance in novels, and I don’t like writing about romance. But it is difficult to keep characters perpetually single, because relationships are such an integral part of humanity and if you want people to relate to your characters, you have to ensure that they relate to other characters.
So, in DEATH SCENE, the first of the amateur sleuth series, my single female sleuth does have a bit of a ‘fling’, with a fellow actor. I never imagined that this was going to be a serious relationship. I thought he was only going to last the first book. I also didn’t plan on her being in love with this character. I think she has a problem with commitment.
As we progressed through the editing process of DEATH SCENE, my editor advised me to make a bit more of the relationship between these two characters, as the ‘love interest’ was coming across as being a bit two-dimensional. So I worked on this a bit, trying to suggest that he was perhaps falling for her – though I was adamant I didn’t want my sleuth falling in love with him. I also chickened out of adding any sex scenes. There were certainly places to put them, but I am the sort of person who skips over sex scenes in novels, looking for something more interesting going on (a bit of murder or mayhem, for instance). I didn’t think the sexy details would add anything to the story, so it all happens “off-page”.
I’ve recently finished the first draft of the second novel in this series. And what did I find, as I got to the exciting bit at the end? Suddenly I discovered my amateur sleuth was full of regret for the cavalier way she treated the love interest of DEATH SCENE (who I was convinced was out of the picture by the beginning of Book 2), and seemed to be hankering after rekindling her relationship with him. Granted, she was tied up in a damp dark basement in fear of her life at the time, and such situations lend themselves to a degree of self-reflection.
But this all came as a bit of a revelation to me. I had my amateur sleuth pegged as the type of girl who would move from lover to lover without a second thought. It seems that maybe she’s not that kind of girl at all.
So, if my sleuth insists on my bringing back her ex for Book 3, that’s really changed the story arc and I’m going to have to think about where I go with this.
Not only that, but it was at this point in the manuscript that I also came to the realisation that I’d pegged the wrong character as the murderer. Which is going to require some serious re-writing for Draft 2, as the actual murderer doesn’t actually make much of an appearance in the first draft.
Pesky characters. It really throws a spanner in the works when they go and do unexpected things. A writer’s life would be so much simpler if they did what you told them to. But the story would probably be far less interesting, so I have learned that it pays to listen when your characters are trying to tell you where you’re going wrong.