As an agent I get to hear lots of different types of authors discuss their writing process and how they go about crafting a world, and especially the lives of characters.
One common refrain is that authors often go into a story with certain ideas about how the story is going to go, but all of a sudden, once characters really begin to come alive they take the story in a different direction altogether.
And this can really help out a story – while obviously the characters are only alive insasmuch as they’re in the author’s (living) head, this may be a way of expressing that the author is being true to the logic of a situation. The author has a sense of the character, and it’s important that the character’s actions are logically consistent.
At the same time, I always find it curious to hear authors so completely in thrall to their worlds and characters, and I start wondering, “Wait a second, who’s in charge here?”
Once the characters and worlds begin to take life it can be a danger if the author lets the characters take the story in a completely different direction. Willful characters can walk themselves straight out of a plot if the author loses touch with the story and instead just follows the characters’ whims.
My personal belief is that the story has to come first, but at the same time, I definitely think it’s important to listen to the inner logic of a character who is coming alive. Balance is everything.
How do you balance story while being true to a character?