Characters run amok

I just stumbled on a new and interesting character for the latest book in my fantasy series, The Devastation Wars. So I should be happy. I mean, I’ve always believed that it is characters that drive a good story. All the other elements, from the plot to the setting are important of course, but it is the characters that really make a story.

Except I’m not. Because I have too darned many characters already. I’m three and a half books into this story and it keeps growing. I can’t keep all this stuff straight! I’ve forgotten most of what I wrote a month ago – something written several years ago in the first book has almost no chance. I spend an awful lot of time rereading previous material and saying things like, “I don’t remember that” and “Hey, that’s a good idea. I should use that again.”

The obvious answer is to kill a few of them off. Heck, it works for George Martin.

The problem is I’m not really in charge of who lives and who dies.

To which you should be thinking: That’s ridiculous. You’re writing the story. Of course you’re in charge of who lives and who dies.

Not really.

Let me explain. I’m not one of these writers who plots the whole book out ahead of time in detail and then comes along afterwards and writes the thing up. Sure I have a vague idea at times where the overall story is going, but for the most part I’m just as much in the dark about what’s going to happen as you are. Most of the time when I write I try to just put myself into the scene. I get in one of the character’s heads, I look around and I wait for something to happen.

It’s true.

My characters surprise me all the time with their actions. Maybe I’m kind of expecting Character A to run out that door over there, when all of a sudden he goes and takes a nap instead. (I know, bad example. You’re thinking: The character takes a nap? How boring are these books anyway?) I often go into a scene with a general idea of what will happen and come out an hour later completely surprised by what actually happened.

By the same token, I seem to run into characters who are determined to have their say, regardless of my wishes on the subject. It happened with Cara in Book 3. She was supposed to be this mousy, nondescript character. Just taking up space. Instead, she stole the first scene she appeared in and then proceeded to demand further scenes. What could I do but give in? She’s a good character.

Which explains why I can’t just go kill off some characters. Oh, I could write the words. Bang! He’s dead. But it wouldn’t be real.

Which means I am stuck with all these characters, running all over the place, doing all kinds of things I can’t remember later.

Good thing I have a very detailed glossary.

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