I was actually quoting myself there. Who was I talking to? One of my main characters (Icarus), who then left me completely stumped for nearly 8 months. Why? Because, damn it, he stood his ground.
I know logically that they’re driving and in full control of the vehicle (story), but there are certainly times when it feels like it’s all in our hands. And what useless hands we have at times…
We can argue with them all day long, but if the story starts to feel unfamiliar then we’ve got a problem. A wrong turn has been taken somewhere and it’s quite likely us who made it.
This all goes back to knowing your characters and taking care not to let your own quirks or agenda ruin a perfectly quirky, perfectly motivated character. I don’t mean not to let yourself into the story (though you do need to be careful with that too–-but that’s a whole other blog post). What I’m telling you is to spend time with your characters enough to know what they would or wouldn’t do in a given situation. Write down a list of hypothetical questions if that would help you, and literally answer each and every one of them. That way when unexpected plot twists emerge (for those of us who don’t outline to the extreme) you won’t have as high a chance of making the wrong decision for your character. Don’t think you’d ever do that? You’re lucky. By the way how is that novel, that’s collecting dust in your closet, coming along? Oh, right, you aren’t working on it anymore because it isn’t any good. Sure. I believe you. That’s totally the reason. *ahem*
The bottom line is this: Get intimate with your story in the most clingy, lascivious, inappropriate ways possible. Know each of your characters as though they were your own flesh and blood (or not, whichever the case) and drill them like a journalist on a deadline. Don’t accept ‘I don’t know’ as an answer. They do know. You know. Now answer!
And when all else fails, there’s always Burger King. I hear they’re hiring…you’re sure to meet some characters there.