It is not uncommon for characters to take on a life of their own. Is it the mysterious work of the unconscious or mechanized brain?

This feeling, the ‘illusion of independent agency’, is quite common. 

After a character is fully fleshed out, she/he may try to take on a life of their own. There may be times when this can lead to the detriment of a story that was carefully plotted.

Taking a life of their own is exactly what your characters should be doing. They should have enough of a character that a reader can ‘almost’ predict how they would act in a given situation. That’s what makes the characters come alive for the reader.

Consequently, a reader can easily spot when a character is acting ‘out of character’. And it is extremely jarring. By forcing the character to do something they never would do, discouraging the reader from continuing. Forcing what happens makes the story lack integrity.

So how do you proceed? You’ve got two choices.

  1. Scratch the scenes you’ve planned. See what the character wants to do, and where it will lead. That is called the discovery writing approach.
  2. If you make your character act in the way you’ve planned where will they end up in the situation. That is a planned approach.

You might end up using some mix of the two. Don’t force your character into acting out of character. Keep to the truth of who the character is. Being a writer is not just writing the words. It is also listening to your characters. You are their voice, their scribe, their portal to the world.

When characters tell you to write something different, something absolutely contrary to what you’d planned, consider what they want.

Just like all automatized things, it feels like its coming from nowhere. The characters are being thought about by the old brain, unconsciously.

The new and old brain distinction is important for understanding imagination and creativity, in order to have an idea where our creative ideas come from. The old brain is largely unconscious, so ideas that bubble up from its depths seemingly come from nowhere. Long before humans had a complex understanding of the unconscious mind, the ancient Greeks attributed these ideas, which seemingly came from nowhere, as being delivered by gods, the muses.

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“Linda has published sixteen books. She blogs about the publishing world, posts useful tips on the challenges a writer faces, including marketing and promoting your work, how to build your online platform, how to get reviews and how to self-publish. She has mentored many authors and edited their work.” 

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