When your fiction characters take over your mind

06 Dec

Beyond the Tripping Point Cover 72dpiA novelist is a person who lives in other people’s skins.

–       –    EL Doctorow

I’m rewriting the prequel novel to four linked stories in my short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012). The main characters are the fraternal twin PIs Dana Bowman and Bast Overture, Detective Sergeant Donald Fielding, Great Aunt Doris, and Dana’s son, David. They appear in some or all of those linked stories and also in the novel I’m rewriting.

Trouble is one of the suspects in the novel has climbed inside my head and demands to be heard – loud and clear. I can see clearly what he looks like and does and I’ve already written him into some chapters, even given him his own Point of View, but he is still not satisfied. It is his story as much as it is the other characters’ story..

So I made some notes to go with the “old novel version chapters” and Friday afternoon I sat down at my computer and started a full-blown character sketch of this fellow. The sketch, when completed, will contain everything from what he eats (or doesn’t eat) for breakfast, to his sordid past, to his feelings and actions for the novel’s time. Not all, but some of this will be incorporated into the novel, bit by bit (without revealing his name until the police and PIs get up to speed about him). He will also get more novel time. After all, I don’t want him coming after me.

So, what do you do if one of your fiction characters seems to be taking over your mind to the point where you do your version of the absent-minded professor? Besides your mind swirling around like it’s going through space, not paying attention to the present/to what is happening can be dangerous. You don’t want to cross the street right in front of an oncoming car or burn dinner to the point where it sets your house on fire.

To give your demanding character his or her due, you need to do the following:

  • Acknowledge the character and his or her right to be in your short story, novella or novel
  • Do an in-depth character sketch – preferably on computer or on paper. You know the old saying about writing it down – doing so not only shows its relevance, but it gets all those swirling thoughts and ideas out of your head and into a more permanent record – at least one easier to access and review. Your head will thank you.
  • What is in a detailed character sketch? You character’s name, background (family, education, current job if he or she has one), physical characteristics, likes, dislikes, traits, What makes him or her angry, sad, happy, etc. What is his driving force in life? In other words all the stuff that he is and what makes him tick?
  • It helps to give this character a tag, i.e., something (or a few somethings) he does when nervous (become irritable, jingle change or keys in pocket, etc.), and something he does or says across the board. For example, he may always use the f-word or have a particular way of handling phone calls (talk to the point and hang up abruptly). Perhaps the character may have multiple allergies and constantly sneezes. The “tag” or “tags” should be something that becomes part of your story.
  • Caveat One: You can get carried away doing character sketches (or the reverse). The former is better because you won’t use it all in your story, and may use very little in your short story. But having full insight into your character and on paper, helps when you sit down in front of your computer to write your story. You feel as if your character is an old friend or old enemy.
  • Caveat Two: As you write your novel or short story, you may be inspired to add more to your character sketch or change something. Do so if it would work better. A character is constantly changing – just like real characters in real life.

Do any of you who are writing fiction have characters taking over your life? How do you deal with these demanding individuals?


Sharon A. Crawford


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2 responses to “When your fiction characters take over your mind

  1. Toe Hallock

    December 17, 2012 at 5:02 am

    Sharon A., thanks much for your insights. As for characters taking over a story, that’s exactly what I rely on. As long as they stay within certain parameters. In other words, my original guidelines. But it is understandable how at least one of them may get out of hand. Where’s the vice principal when you need him or her? Anyhoo, I am presently working on a series of short stories, each of which stands alone, but involves many of the same characters. Each mystery comes to a conclusion, like individual chapters. But the storyline involving the characters continues to evolve throughout the entire sequence. I can hardly wait to see how it all turns out. Yours truly, Toe.

  2. Sharon A. Crawford

    December 17, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    That’s exactly it with these characters. Sometimes they keep me awake at night. Vice Principal – maybe even a character cop is needed. Good luck with your short story collection – I like the setup for the connected stories that also stand alone.


    Sharon A.


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