Character Surprises

Our assignment this week is to write about something in our writing process that’s surprised us.

My favorite thing about writing is the surprises – the little clicks when something comes together or when you discover a trail of breadcrumbs that your subconscious has been dropping for you or when a minor character suddenly becomes more important to the story than you’d planned. It’s that last twist that I wanted to explore today – the way an ensemble member suddenly roars onto the stage, all Technicolor, and you can’t imagine the story without them anymore.

In Cahill book 3, there’s a new couple whose banter so delighted me that I would love to someday write a short story featuring them. I had to repeatedly restrain myself from writing pages and pages of their dialogue because it was so much fun!  I suspected that the male character was important  to the political plot but had no idea who he really was until I started writing his second scene. Then he suddenly became a misogynistic dandy who prizes himself on being progressive and is in need of being taken down a peg or two, and didn’t I know just the girl to do it? (And…I’m hesitant to write more about this because who knows what will change in edits? So let me give another example.)

When I started writing BORN WICKED, I didn’t realize that Sachi Ishida and Rory Elliott would be more than empty-headed, superficial town girls. They’d make easy antagonists for Cate. But then I thought, hmm. Cate – a bit of a tomboy who enjoys climbing trees, running through the fields, or gardening more than shopping – is really  judgy about girls who like dresses and fashion and are more traditionally girly. Wouldn’t it be interesting to explode that stereotype – to give Sachi and Rory their own secrets and an unexpected canniness?

My editor suggested that Sachi and Rory remain antagonists – perhaps rivals for Finn’s attention, or enemies who would betray Cate in some way. But it was super important to me that Cate find girl friends.That she grow to respect and trust and sacrifice for them. One of her biggest arcs, to me, is the discovery that she can trust girls who aren’t her sisters, and that the family you create from friends may be as strong as the family you’re born into. She and Sachi form a quick, close bond over their fierce loyalty to their reckless sisters.

And Rory – well, Rory Elliott has become one of my favorite characters to write – possibly my very favorite after Cate and her sisters. In STAR CURSED, when Rory gets the chance to confront the father who’s never acknowledged her as his, it’s one of my favorite scenes. Throughout BW, Cate continues to underestimate Rory – to judge her as reckless and slutty – and it’s only in that moment midway through SC that she realizes Rory has her own strengths and isn’t nearly as oblivious as she’d imagined. I think the only thing more fun than surprising yourself is surprising your protagonist!





8 thoughts on “Character Surprises

  1. catwinters says:

    Great post, Jess! So fun to see how some of your characters changed and surprised you. I agree that the little surprises are some of the best parts about writing.

    Just today I discovered that a seemingly minor room decoration in my WIP is actually a meaningful treasure to one of my characters. I originally intended the object to be just a means of conveying atmosphere, but it became so much more as I was typing along thirteen chapters later.

  2. Jessica R says:

    I love getting this kind of insight into the process that authors go through because it’s so interesting to see who and what in the story has taken on a life of its own for the author and is almost making its own decisions. Thanks for sharing, that was really cool to read!

  3. It’s so interesting to read about how your characters took you by surprise, Jess. It’s exciting to see how that happens! A character in my WIP happened to play the bagpipe, and many chapters later, the bagpipe became an important tool, story- and character-wise. It’s astounding, to me, how objects a writer happens to plop in there can become, as writer-teacher Liza Ketchum puts it, “endowed objects.”

  4. Great post, Jessica! The discovery of writing is so much fun. Even as a plotter, the story can still surprise me.

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