Easily my favorite part of writing is when things happen I didn’t plan. I’m writing away, typing fast, and all of a sudden I’m staring at the page in surprise. I didn’t plan that. I never knew it about the character.
I’ve read of authors who insist that you not let your characters do this. They believe you must be in control at all times.
I disagree. Strongly. Those moments where the unexpected happen are what bring your characters to life. It makes them real, and it’s an amazing feeling.
I thought I’d share two such moments from my current work in progress, Running Away. They are actually two of my favorite scenes in the novel and were instrumental in helping me realize where edits would have to take place.
This first example is a conversation between brothers Clarke and Zack. Clarke is a young widower with a young daughter. Becka, who has been living with them and taking care of his daughter, was recently rushed to the hospital with pregnancy complications.
“Whoa, wait a minute.” Zack stopped him with a hand on his chest. “Clarke, you gotta talk to me.”
“About what?” Clarke practically radiated with excess energy as he paused.
“About why you’re freaking out like this.” Zack stared him down. “What’s going on?”
Clarke looked away from him. “I couldn’t get the door open,” he said finally.
Zack waited patiently for him to continue.
“I couldn’t get the door open and I couldn’t find the little thing to pop the lock and so I tried ramming it with my shoulders like they do on TV because I heard her fall and she wasn’t answering me.” His chest rose up and down as he breathed heavily. “And when it finally opened she was lying on the floor and there was blood on her jeans and-”
Zack put his hand on Clarke’s arm. “I know it must have been scary.”
Clarke took a deep breath. “I haven’t felt like that since I identified Arianna’s body at the morgue after her accident. I thought she was dead.”
“But she wasn’t,” Zack reminded him.
“Yeah but by the time I realized that I thought the baby was…” Clarke leaned his head back and Zack realized he actually had tears in his eyes.
“Clarke,” Zack murmured, shocked at the raw emotion written across his brother’s face. He’d never seen him cry before, not even when Arianna died.
“When we were first married Arianna got pregnant.” Clarke let out a gasp of air. “I wanted to tell everyone but she wanted to wait. We were just getting ready to tell everyone and the baby was gone” His jaw tightened. “I never thought I’d have to take another bleeding woman to the hospital again.”
I think I was as shocked as Zack was when Clarke told him about the miscarriage. I’ve worked on this novel on and off for years and a previous miscarriage was never even considered. But it made so much sense! Of course Clarke was freaking out. He’d done that in previous drafts and I finally knew why.
The second example takes place at a family cookout. Clarke and Zack have four older sisters and Becka was meeting one of them for the first time. (Well, she was supposed to be meeting her for the first time. I found out later I’d mentioned another meeting which will be deleted in edits. Oops!)
“Becka, this is my daughter Allison and her husband Paul.” Ellen gestured to an elegantly dressed woman with pale blond hair styled perfectly in a gentle bob right at her chin. Her blue eyes were clear and piercing and when she raised her chin Becka was unsurprised to see a strand of what looked like real pearls around her neck.
“Hello,” Allison said coolly, her voice filled with self-assurance that Becka suspected she would never feel herself. Allison held out a perfectly manicured hand for Becka to shake.
Gina bumped into the back of Becka’s legs which was the nudge she needed to step forward and place her decidedly not manicured hand in Allison’s. Allison just barely clasped her hand and moved it in a gentle up and down motion before withdrawing and placing her hand back in her lap.
The regal woman wearing creamy white slacks and a fuzzy pale pink sweater gestured to twin blond girls sitting politely at her feet, each sporting impeccably neat twin french braids. “These are my daughters Angela and Amanda, but we call them Angie and Manda.”
Becka smiled at the girls, who smiled politely back but looked uninterested in the newcomer.
Allison next turned to the toddler who was trying to squirm off of his father’s lap. “And this is our son Adam.”
Adam looked like he belonged in an entirely different family. His head was full of riotous coppery curls and his jeans were worn around the knees. The button up blue striped shirt his mother had likely pressed neatly before dressing him was half untucked and thoroughly wrinkled. He finally succeeded in getting off of his father’s lap and tumbled onto the floor, climbing to his feet and shaking ginger curls out of his eyes.
“Hi,” he said, looking up at Becka.
“Hi, Adam,” she responded, smiling down at the little boy who had already wormed a tiny bit into her heart.
“I’m not Adam, I’m Batman!” The little boy announced, climbing to his feet and running out of the room with his arms out as if he were flying.
Allison is not a new character. Neither are her children. But I had no idea just how prissy she was until this scene.
And Adam! This red headed hellion spring fully formed out of my fingers and straight into the page. I adore him, and I’m going to have to find a way to use him in future novels because he’s just awesome.
One extra Allison moment just because I love it:
When baby Justin made it extremely clear to anyone with ears that he wanted his dinner, Claire casually sat down on the other side of Becka and tugged her shirt down to feed her son.
Out of the corner of her eye, Becka watched Allison take a double look and then elbow her husband until he averted his eyes.
“I swear I don’t know how she managed to get pregnant twice,” Claire muttered under her breath, clearly having seen what had just happened. “She was a really fun kid, I don’t know how she got so uptight.”
Justin let go of his mother’s breast with a loud pop and leaned his head back to grin at Becka.
She couldn’t stop the laugh that bubbled up, both from the grinning baby next to her and the completely appalled expression on Allison’s face from across the room.
“Come on munchkin,” Claire said, coaxing her son to return to his meal, “let’s not give Auntie Allison an aneurysm.”
(My niece did that once, stop eating to smile at me, and it completely melted my heart.)
So, there are two examples of times when my characters completely surprised me. Does this ever happen to you? Do you enjoy it or do you chastise them and put them back where they’re supposed to be? I’d love to hear from you!