When Characters Take Over the Story

boxing ring

If we imagine a boxing ring with our antagonist in one corner and the protagonist in the other corner, who is the referee? The writer is.

Lani Longshore
Lani Longshore

Lani Longshore, co-author of Death by Chenille and When Chenille is Not Enough (science fiction genre about quilters saving the world from aliens disguised as bolts of beige fabric), made a comment on my last post about talking to characters. She said, “I chatter away at them all the time, but do they listen? They do not. They keep their secrets sailing over my head like playground bullies playing keep-away with the smallest kid’s hat.” She gave a clear visual of what it seems like when the characters don’t let the writer know what they’re doing behind the page or when they take over the story.

Jorge Luis Borges said, “Many of my characters are fools and they’re always playing tricks on me and treating me badly.”

Writers need to control the characters so that they follow the intended plot, however, if the antagonist and protagonist are in a battle, writers also referee the fight. In other words, what makes the characters more believable is to show a logical reason for each side’s conviction. Remember, we are told the villain needs to have some redeeming quality? The referee can show the reasons why both sides believe they are right which will make the conflict more emotionally appealing and deepen the story. Tell the protagonist that you aren’t taking the antagonist’s side, but if the reader understands why the antagonist is taking action, the deeper story line will keep those pages turning.


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For over twenty-five years, I've taught elementary grades, high school, and county special education classes. Now I am a field supervisor for teachers working toward their teaching credentials. I also teach writing classes in Dublin and Pleasanton, California. I have won 5 awards in short story contests, My stories are published in The California Writers Club Literary Review, and several anthologies including four times in Las Positas College collections. I have several book projects, but the two that have my immediate attention are HADA'S FOG, which is women's fiction, LILLI, a YA novel, and NORMAN IN THE PICTURE, a paranormal mystery. I have published an anthology WRITTEN ACROSS THE GENRES that includes writings from members of my writing classes and other writers. It's available on Amazon and Kindle.

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