Hello, writers. We've had some discussions in the comments the last few weeks about what I suppose could be called self-motivated characters. Characters who run off places on their own. Roamin' characters.
They are both a good thing and a bad thing.
They're a good thing because
1. It means you've succeeded in creating characters who are so real that they have wills of their own. Go you!
2. It means that, ideally, your story won't seem contrived or patched-together to the reader; it's character driven.
They're a bad thing because really, not everything your characters do actually belongs in the story. The story is king. When your characters are serving the story, great. When they're not serving the story, but getting in the way of it, then they need to be brought to heel.
So ideally, you want to let your characters be themselves to the extent that, if a scene is going wrong for them, if they're feeling forced, suppressed, or insincere, they'll say so. (The analogy I read somewhere, and always think of, is Han Solo's famous response to Princess Leia's “I love you” in The Empire Strikes Back. The script called for the actor to say “I love you too.” Mr. Ford instead said what he thought the character would say, and thus was a great Character Moment born.)
But you also want them to let you tell the damn story. If your characters drink too much, or quarrel too much, or canoodle too much, or make bad puns, when Story is supposed to be happening, you have to bring them into line.
I've had this problem quite a lot with the Jinx series. Simon Magus writes himself. When he's on the page, I can sit back and relax while he does all the work. He's great company (for a writer, anyway; probably not for the people who know him). I love him to death. But the problem is, he's not the protagonist. Jinx is. Simon tends to take the scene away from Jinx. On the rewrites, I sometimes have to struggle to give it back to Jinx.
Which is in its own way helpful, because it forces me to think about how to make Jinx stronger (both as a character and as a person).
So I guess my thoughts on this subject amount to this: If your characters have minds of their own, great! But they're on your payroll, so they're going to have to serve the story. And that can mean a lot of rewriting.
A callow youth and his stout companion, vowing never, ever to return to the swamp, are relieved to learn that they must now venture into a nice, dry city and seek out the Wise Grebe of Grimm, who will tell them the location of the missing Jewel of Togwogmagog... if he feels like it.
When they find the Wise Grebe's lair, they learn that the Grebe is protected by a mighty secretary, who decides just who will see the WG and who will not.
Write the scene. Make the secretary into a character who steals the scene, and tries to send it off in his/her own direction.
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