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When characters take on a life of their own

Emma_Clare at 12:00AM, Sept. 17, 2021
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As I was unwinding by absent-mindedly scrolling through Twitter, I happened upon a tweet asking if other writers/creators experience creating characters who take on a life of their own, and it got me to thinking. Recently I had drafted two scripts for one of our comics, only to then resubmit them to my comic partner after I realised that what I had written did not fit what the characters wanted to do. They had other plans, wanted to say other things, and go to different places. The thing is, this isn’t the first time this has happened.

In the first issue of another of our comics, we had scripted two throw away characters. They were to have no more than 5 pages of in-comic time. They, however, had other plans. The conversations went on and on and we didn’t want to stop them because, well, we liked it! Their fate did not change, but how they got there? Well, the rest is left up to history. In fact, their expanded roles have lasting impacts on the story. So much for throwaway characters.

There was also another time when I was participating in a written role play. My character was dating another one and they had had a very soul crushing fight. In the middle of talking about it, my character, well, they broke it off with the other one. The thing is, both myself and the other writer were just as shocked as each other! We didn’t know it was coming and oh boy did it crush us. Goes to show you have no idea what will happen!

I have written a few articles about outlines and plans, and, for the most part, I stick to that. However, there are times where characters surprise you. And, when they begin to deviate, explore where it goes. See how it sounds and if it’s looking good, be prepared to make changes to your carefully laid plans. In fact, when outlining, it’s good to leave a few details vague so as to allow your characters to grow and explore the story.

Do your characters have a life of their own? Let us know in the comment section below! And join us on Sunday evening for our Quackchat at 5:30PM(EST)!

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comment

anonymous?

PaulEberhardt at 1:05PM, Sept. 20, 2021

This is basically how anything I do evolves. I love creating characters and giving them the liberty to write the rest of the stories and gags for me. :) In writer's classes you'll be told that you should treat characters as tools for your plot. They've got a point of course, but I've long realised that doing the exact opposite by actively encouraging them to take on a life of their own is more fun.

Andreas_Helixfinger at 11:51PM, Sept. 17, 2021

Just to give a recent example. It wasn't my idea, in the last page I posted for the comic, that Molly should just take the last couple of hundred dollar bills out of the emptied safe for herself. That was her impulse that she conveyed to me while drawing out the scene^^

Andreas_Helixfinger at 11:42PM, Sept. 17, 2021

I feel like it is the fact that I let my main character Molly Lusc have her say in the creative process of the comic Molly Lusc that it has sort of become more then just a series of neo-noir style mystery solving escapades. It has become an ongoing story about her life. Her childhood, her struggles as an adult, her passions, her insecurites, her weird, little quirks (like wanting to sleep in a bathtub rather then in a bed), her failures and her triumphs, and the world she lives in seen through her eyes. Her favourite cigarette brand and her favourite drink (it's not whiskey, I know that's a noir classic). Yes, I really do feel like me and this character I wrote is creating all of this together in a way and I do feel like it is working out quite well. We both seem to be helping one another out in figuring out what works and what doesn't along this journey.

hushicho at 4:39PM, Sept. 17, 2021

It is nice when there is a wellspring of inspiration, and when characters are so vibrant that they take on their own sort of life and agency, but it is important above all to remember that we are the authors of the stories. As helpful as it can be for a character to be expressive, it's in our hands, in the end. Otherwise, we can't really claim to have ever written anything. I do wish more people had experience listening to their characters, though. It might lead to better storytelling if they actually care about the characters as they would a living person in this world.

rmccool at 9:59AM, Sept. 17, 2021

After 20 some years..yes..Lan and Warmwind will flat refuse to do somethings..I had a great story written..resurch done ..concept art..and warmwind down and made tea..it was like having writers block.. the art didn't feel right..till I was like fine.. do it your way..

Deno85 at 5:41AM, Sept. 17, 2021

I feel almost every character I have tends to take on a life of their own eventually and I am just hanging on to go with it, I love it.^_^

giovanni at 1:47AM, Sept. 17, 2021

while it is nice when characters take on a life of their own since it means they have a well dfeined personnality, one has to remember that an author has to be in control in the end. i have read a manga once where the author lost complete control over the characters (the author said so in the author notes included in the manga) and overall, the story just turned into an absolute mess. I'll need to find what was the title of the manga (i read it only once afterall)


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