Not another touchy-feely blog about letting characters lead you down the right path, is it? Another stupid post about having characters dictate the action and feelings, and all that ‘stuff’. Yes it is. Because I feel like posting one.
Why the hell is it important?
Simple: If you don’t allow a character to do what they want, they will not experience the consequences of their actions, nor will they be able to grow from those consequences.
More convoluted: I can totally tell that your character wants to do something else. She wants to express her feelings; he wants to punch that guy in the face. Yet they don’t do it, and I am not compelled to believe the why you’ve given me. Sure she might contain her emotions and smile while her husband says nasty things, but it doesn’t ring true for her. Sure he might think about getting locked up for the night in jail, but it’d feel so good to hit.
That’s nice and all, but how do you do it?
You’ll have to learn to let go of control. Let go of the plot you have in mind (unless of course your character said: This is what happened, I’m giving you a heads up). Let go of all the twists and turns and ‘surprise’ endings you have in mind; let go of snappy, slick dialogue. Readers are smart (no really, readers can see through a lot). Readers prefer if you give them the raw, flawed character: the one they can identify with, the one they can see and say “Is that me?” and want to cringe (or rejoice).
The point is letting the character ‘speak’ to you. You should hear their voice (maybe not an actual sound, but a feeling or mood or tone they have). Let the way they pick words dictate your choices. These makes the piece ultimately better. Suddenly, people reading your piece will have a much stronger sense of story, and likely an opinion on it.
Remember: character drives story (at least for now).