It’s a regular day for writing – you’ve already played the scene out in your head a thousand times; you even have the dialogues planned. Something very specific is going to happen – something that only you know, something that will take the story ahead, something that’ll make one of your characters dance to your tunes.
And then that character turns around, smirks at you in a manner that’s more amused than condescending, and then does whatever it wants anyway. Hours of thought turn useless, dialogues vaporize, and your story line hangs dangerously on the precipice. But one moment later, your fingers fly over the keyboard as you try and type as fast as the words come to your mind. That is what your characters, the ones that you breathed life into, can do to you.
How often has it happened to you that you’re writing something, anything, with almost every detail penned out in your thoughts. But your character says or does something that even you didn’t expect. Plus, he or she uses your fingers and effort to make the twist come alive. You find yourself typing furiously, not sure why you’ve deviated, but knowing with scary surety that this had been the right path to go on all along.
What you get then is a story that reached where you wanted it to, and that too, by making use of the more interesting route. I guess it all comes down to the fact that people are unpredictable. Sure, they won’t do anything too out of character, but that character itself is unpredictable because of its many layers. The characters you create are people too. They may be fictional, but in an author’s head, they’re very much alive. You talk about them like they’re your friends, like their trials are real, their grief, bothersome, and their achievements, something to be greatly appreciated. You feel their pain and pleasure, happiness and despair, loss and gain. You live many lives with them – and yet, you give them a free reign to live their lives wholly.
That is the very reason your readers can associate with them – because you associate with them. And when you’re treating them like real people, do they not have the right and probability to act as per their own wishes? All you can do is see where the flow takes you.
The debate of story drives characters vs. characters drive story is an old one. I’ve seen that most of the time, I choose what my characters do. But when they choose to drive the story instead, I let them take the wheel. Most times, the results are better than whatever I could have plotted! What about you? Do you control your characters at all times? Or do you let them be the people they are and see where they take your story?