One of the ‘benefits’ of being a pantser—as opposed to an outliner who knows most of the story up front—is that I never know when a character will alter my novel. This happened in Portrait of a Girl Running. I needed a marginal character as a catalyst for added tension; just a supporting player, mind you. His name is Mr. Myles. An unexpected thing happened though. When I set him in a scene with my protagonist, they had this amazing chemistry I hadn’t counted on. They could not be in the same scene together without them carving out an emotional wake. In fact, Myles became not only a major character in the novel (and the sequel) but he also refined the overall theme.
It happened again in Portrait of a Protégé. On a whim, a character named Marvelle* enters the story—and bam! she takes over!
I’ve been evaluating what these two intruding characters have in common.
- has a dynamic personality
- engages with the protagonist in a battle of wills
- ultimately has the protagonist’s best interest at heart
- is considerably older than the protagonist
- is based—at least partially—on a real person I have known.
I wonder how much this last factor contributes to their strength—that is, to my ability to truly bring them to life in such a profound way.
I’m curious—whether you’re a pantser or an outliner—Do you have characters that enter your story in an unexpected way? Do they refine, or even redefine your theme? Are any of your characters based on someone you have personally known?
*aka, my inner critic