I wrote a blog entry a couple months ago refuting the idea that characters drive the stories, not the authors. Well, I’m willing to admit when I’ve misspoke, and in this situation, I did. A little, anyway. The take-away of that entry should have been that you’re the author, you should write the story you want to tell, and if your characters are moving it in a direction you’re not keen on, then change the characters. I stand by that.
It’s the rigidity of the rule that I’m retracting. Some of the most interesting stories are the ones your characters want to tell, not the original outline you came up with. I recently completed my first draft of the sequel to Little Miss Communication (cleverly titled, Little Miss Calculation) and learned this lesson first hand.
Keeping things vague and spoiler-free, I knew the premise of the story I wanted to tell, started writing a version of it, and realized that it wasn’t realistic (see Little Miss… cue for more). Took a month off and wrote a couple other things, got back into it with a better plot, and realized that while it could theoretically work, it wasn’t something Elaine would dig. So I let the characters’ actions dictate the flow of the second half and ended with a much stronger story, overall. And that, in turn, made the culmination of the original premise more poignant.
So in summary, listen to your characters. If they’re leading you down a path you don’t like, then rethink those characters. It’s counter-productive to give them that much control. Otherwise, give them a longer leash. Being happily surprised doesn’t make you a bitch.