Home > Blog, Middle-Grade Novel Month > Surprise! – Listening to Your Characters

Surprise! – Listening to Your Characters

I love it when my work surprises me. After months of plot development, character development, and thematic development, you’d think I’d have it all figured out, but I never do. Playing in the moment always produces the unexpected. It’s the best (and scariest) part about this practice.

Due to all the prep work I’ve done, I tend to know what will happen within a scene, I just don’t know how it will manifest. I let my characters tell me how. This results in surprises like unanticipated jokes, opportunities for subtext, new settings, or moments for characters to just be themselves.

For example, I blogged about an unexpected moment a few weeks ago, when David (the main character of my middle-grade novel about kid spies) got himself into trouble and I needed to learn YouTube Jiu-Jitsu to save him. I knew the fight scene would be there in the plot, but I didn’t know how it would play out. That is, typically, the unexpected I have come to expect.

This week, however, David really out-did himself. While writing the end of the second act, David and some other characters produced a whole new scene I hadn’t even considered. Bonus: It’s the best scene I’ve written, yet!

I thought everyone would want to go to the right, but they all wanted to go left, except for David. By placing David in a situation he didn’t like at all, he boiled over with emotion and brought the theme home with a lot of heart. In fact, there’s so much heart, I’m afraid to keep it in the story. Of course, I will keep it because the best stuff is what scares you (it’s a sign that you’ve hit on something honest which may upset people who don’t like what you have to say), but I didn’t know it would be there until it came out.

So, thanks David—and all your co-characters, as well—for surprising me with the best and scariest parts of my story. It would be nothing but plot without you.

  1. 01/16/2014 at 10:38 PM

    That’s an important distinction between the “what” and “how.” My first instinct is to assume they’re one in the same but there’s a difference.

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