Inflection Point, or Characters do the Darnedest Things!

Okay, so I have a post to edit for tomorrow and a book to write. I hadn’t planned on writing an extra post today, but…well, something has happened, and I thought it might be kind of interesting and/or instructive to talk about it. I’ll try to keep this a brief one.

I’m writing the sequel to The Corridors of the Dead, City of the Dead. I’ve mentioned this before. I’m just about at the quarter point in typing it up and halfway through dictating the book. Well, at least, I thought I was halfway through it; yesterday something surprising happened, and it looks like the book may be taking another Room 3-esque turn, though at least this time it has the decency to do so during the first draft and feel a bit exciting rather than scary.

Without spoiling too much, here’s what happened: I reached a point in the plot where two characters, one important, one not-so-important, die as noble sacrifices to protect Matty’s sacred mission. One character died without much fuss, but when the time came to write about the second character, he swerved on me. He tricked his murderers and, in a stroke of genius, made a throwaway detail that I had planned on excising in the second draft become a lot more relevant.

You see, one of the characters has a cat that hates pretty much anything and everything except for its owner (this may or may not be based on one of my own cats). When people arrive at her cottage, she stows the cat in a closet by the door while she welcomes the visitors into her home. The cat stayed in there for quite some time, and eventually I had planned to cut it out because I just didn’t see where it fit into the story and it seemed like a dead-end idea.

That is, until the rogue character began searching the cottage for a weapon and opened the closet, freeing the cat, which became a living weapon. Didn’t see that one coming! Nor did I see the person waiting at the back of the cottage for him. One tiny deviation – one simple character-driven choice – and I have an entire subplot on my hands that was not in the original plot.

I could give a heaving sigh, a oh-woe-is-me sigh, but I’m actually pretty delighted with this development. I love it when characters surprise me, and I think the subplot will add something to the novel.

I just wanted to share it because I think writers should listen to the voices of their characters and allow them agency. You never know what will happen.

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  1. Don’t you just love it when your characters surprise you. I had to rewrite the middle of my latest because my character did something I totally wasn’t expecting.

  2. That’s actually what’s supposed to happen (I take it you’re a pantser). Otherwise novels become too predictable and trite.

    Personally, I love it when that happens. Doesn’t matter how much I’ve planned it in my head or think to myself “nah, nothing’s out of the ordinary is going to happen.” Something out of the ordinary ALWAYS happens and the novel winds up very different than I expected.

    One example is in my upcoming novel “Poem for the Wolves”. Early on there was a character that came out of the blue. I could’ve let her go but I knew she needed to travel along with the two main characters. Not only did she wind up as one of the three main characters, she also radically altered the story from being somewhat pessimistic to surprisingly hopeful.

  3. That is so cool. It’s like magic when that happens! I’m glad you were excited about it, and let it happen.

  4. I have had this happen several times while writing my current series. I love it! Maybe I’m a pantser at heart???? 🙂

  5. There is a sense of ‘rightness’ when what seemed random turns out to be necessary. That is true of life and of fiction. There are no coincidences!

    Also: when my stories surprise me, I’ve come to think of it as “doing a Room 3.” It’s not a bad thing, although it can be scary when you’ve committed thousands of words that need to be revised suddenly and unexpectedly. It’s the hidden teacher in writing fiction.

    Keep on writing & thanks for sharing this!


    • I’m beginning to believe the same thing. And oh no, I inspired a word for when things go wrong! 🙂 I do like that, “the hidden teacher”. Might be a good blog post.

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