Authors like to tell stories about characters taking on lives of their own, and often that’s a good thing. Predictable stories are as boring to write as they are to read. So when the unexpected happens and a character steps to the fore, demanding your attention and assuming an unexpected role in the plot, that may be the most promising development you could ask for. Then again, it may not.
Recently, while working on a chapter that threatened to become oh-so-ho-hum—something for the compost pile if I couldn’t invent a new twist—a previously minor character began jockeying for the protagonist role. He spoke brilliantly, provided many insights and brought new dimension and potential to my book. All of a sudden, minor seeds I’d sown in earlier chapters were fomenting a storm that could rise and give everything preceding new power, new direction. Except that they couldn’t. And he could never become the protagonist. Why not? Because this book is a sequel. The protagonist has already been decided and this character, as compelling as he was trying to become, should never become more than a foil for the lead. Not without a complete rewrite. And then what do I do for a second act to the original work? A writer must learn to endure a great deal of suffering involving hours of unending work, but as for this direction, frankly I’m not that masochistic.
Hmm. What to do?
One thing every writer must learn is how to recognize the gems that arise during the writing process and how to make them work for and not against him. To do so, I had to learn more about my main character, to study what I had already written and decide which established or hinted-at traits would enable him to fit into the role this secondary character had begun to create. To do so, I had to revisit not only earlier chapters, but also friends and acquaintances I had met in this life—people with similar traits—then decide how they might act. I think this is one of those situations where a deep well of experience rewards the mature author. (You will note I didn’t use either “old” or “geezer” when alluding to myself.) 😉 A vast array of memorable people—both real and fictional—populate my imagination and it is from many of these on whom I draw.
As for the upstart? Until that moment, he had been merely wallpaper. Now he has a voice. I know well enough not to stifle him, and his new presence keeps the lead on his toes and me on mine. I’m pleased where the book is going now. With luck, someday you may enjoy it too!