When Characters Hijack the Plot

When Characters Hijack the Plot

If you are a writer that prefers to
know exactly what is going to happen in your story before you start
writing, then I assume you spend a lot of time outlining and
hammering out your plot. You know exactly where your characters are
going to go, what they are going to do, and how they are going to do
it. You know all of the major plot twists beforehand, as well as how
your characters should react to them. You have everything set up
neatly and ready to go.

But then you start actually writing.

What happens when you write your
characters and develop them within the story, and their development
takes you in an entirely different direction? Or what happens when
you introduce a new supporting character, and whatever that character
wants to do totally derails your carefully planned and outlined plot?

Instances like these are what I
consider “hijacking” the plot of your story. The characters’
personalities, histories, goals and makeup dictate a different
reaction than what you had originally planned, and it almost mandates
you taking the story in an entirely different direction. It’s like in
many episodes of The Simpsons, where the episode starts off seeming
to be about one story element, but then something gets introduced
which changes the plot of the episode drastically and makes the rest
of the show about resolving the new development.

How you resolve this really depends on
how flexible you are as a writer. For some writers, the plot outline
is just a bare framework or suggestion of how things probably should
go maybe, and if any element comes around to change things, they are
perfectly okay with going with the flow. There are inherent issues
that can come from that, but they are willing to deal with that. At
the other extreme, there are writers that are determined, or
obligated (in the case of ghostwriters or people under contract for
franchises), to stick to their original plot outline no matter what.
These writers now have to face the possibility of forcing their
characters to act against their true nature for the sake of following
the plot. There are also dangers with this approach, too. Chances are
if you’ve faced this issue, you fall somewhere in the middle. Here
are a few options on how you can handle it.

Make the new arc a subplot

You can take this new direction your character wants to go in, and make it a side story that you visit as a break from your main plot. This can actually add more depth to your core story as it allows room fr character development and exploration you might not be able to get to within your main plot. And it will be even better if you can tie this new side story back into the central plot.

Make it into a spinoff, and finish the core plot with new characters

If what this character wants to do is totally out of the realm of your originally story, you could just make a separate book dealing with that story. And if that character simply is no longer a good fit for the plot you have in mind, then you’ll have to create new characters that are better suited to your original story. In that case, you will need to create your character with the needs of the plot built into their makeup and backstory.

Change details about your characters to make them compliant.

If you really don’t want to craft an
entirely new story around your characters’ new developments, you
could just modify and tweak your character’s personality and
backstory to be more compliant with your plot. This is actually
something I’d recommend against. Once your characters discover their
voice and perspective, I believe it would be a disservice to try to
neuter or change their voice for the sake of a plot. Interesting
plots are great for one story, but memorable characters can be
utilized for multiple stories on end.

extend the story.

My solution with my story was that my
characters would go off on this wild side adventure, and after that
was resolved, then they still had to deal with their original
problem. But now they were armed with more experience, new allies,
new skills and a better understanding of the world around them. Of
course, this meant that the story would take more than one book to be
completed. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, by the way.

So these are different methods and
approaches you can take when your characters start pushing you in
directions you hadn’t intended, and start taking you away from the
plot you had so carefully planned. It’s nothing of panic over, and
happens often when you take time to truly develop characters. But
there are ways for you to b true to both your characters and your
plot, and if handled correctly, can add that much more depth to your
overall narrative.

Storyteller and published author of 4 novels.