From Authors to Authors: Writing Wrong Turns and Runaway Characters

Welcome all to a new installment of our From authors to authors series. Today, Layla Dorine will talk to us about writing wrong turns and runaway characters. Enjoy!

I’d like to think we’ve all had those moments when a character takes over and everything you thought you knew about the plot and the direction the story was headed ends up getting burned to the ground. For a planner, this can be particularly devastating, while a pantser typically finds those instances part of the joy of character driven stories where they never know exactly what is going to happen next. While the pantser is enjoying the thrill of Christmas and 4th of July all wrapped up with Halloween Candy as they navigate the various twists and turns, the planner often times finds themselves yanking their hair out trying to decide what to do next.

No one wants to waste good material. Let’s face it, time is precious and finding the opportunity to sit down and put words in a document can be difficult at times, so being faced with a wrong turn or a character who decides a story should go an entirely different way can be quite daunting. Sometimes, it can even leave a struggling writer frustrated and wanting to simply give up on the story and the world they’ve been creating.

I’ve been there. Many times. As recently as this past week even, and it was a huge help in writing this article to draw on some of the advice that was given to me. The main one being stop.

Let me repeat that.


Take a Break and Give Your Story Time

Do not touch another key, do not hit delete, do not stab your pen into the paper multiple times hoping to make the pages bleed, as tempting as that might be.

Step back, move away from the writing implements, put them in a drawer or close the screen and walk away. Go work in the garden or get some housecleaning done, take a walk, go for a drive, sew, knit, play guitar or work on an art project. Take some pictures, see someplace new, push the story from your mind if you can, or maybe, as you’re out doing these things, you’ll stumble upon the connection that’s been missing and ending up sitting in a field of wildflowers, jotting down ideas.

Or not.

Sometimes, a story just has to be left alone for a little while. Frustrating, yes, but better in the long run than playing tug of war with a storyline that simply won’t fall into place.  Readers can tell when something is forced, they can read between the lines and know when an author’s heart just wasn’t in finishing something. Give yourself the space and time you need to craft the best story you can, you’ll have far more to be proud of in the long run.

It’s hard though to walk away from something you’ve labored on for so long. Something that you fell asleep dreaming about or that kept you up at night. Something that occupied your time so much that you couldn’t enjoy watching TV or going to a movie because all you wanted to do was write it down.  I’ve resisted putting a piece aside a time or two, scared I’d never come back to that story that I started with so much enthusiasm. Eventually though, I was left no choice. There were too many wrong turns, too many characters that didn’t want to behave as I’d expected them to. Several are still unfinished, though I’ve made it a point to try and find some readers to send them out too. Sometimes, a fresh set of eyes not your own is better than reading it over and over and convincing yourself its crap.

My best example is my debut novel, Guitars and Cages.  I had it all planned out in my head, I could see it, I knew who the story would be about, who would end up getting together, and how it all would end. Excited, I plowed full steam ahead, working on it in every free moment I got. Then it happened. I got to a pivotal scene, and even as I was typing I could feel things going askew. Still, It was Asher and I trusted him to tell me his story and he did….just not the story I’d been expecting.

What was supposed to be a one and done has become at the very least a trilogy, and that person who was so important to him in the planning phase? Still important, but filling a totally different role.

Several times I contemplated undoing it, or changing things up in the second book so he ended up with the one I’d initially seen him with. In the end though, that wasn’t his story, and he insisted on telling it his way, and when I resisted, well, let’s just say he went radio silent for months and I was left pecking aimlessly at the keys working on everything but his story. In the end, we did things his way. He’s the muse after all.

Taking Writing Wrong Turns vs Runaway Character

I think this is the point where I should mention one important fact: There is a big difference between a wrong turn and a runaway character.

Wrong turns happen; they are typically just ideas that didn’t pan out. You can always reverse from a wrong turn, (though save those pages, you might find a use for them later on.)  Wrong turns typically lead to dead ends, or a tangled mess of a storyline with open plot points and no resolution to anything in sight.

Of course a wrong turn can also lead to a gem of a story, something far more powerful and compelling that you initially expected the story to be. Personally, I think there is a fine line between the two and figuring out what side a story is on can be tough. That’s another good time to step away or phone a friend, take time to really think about where you are in the story and where you wish to be.

A runaway character, on the other hand, can be absolutely amazing. This is someone with a bit part that suddenly becomes a star, or a star who suddenly becomes a megastar, the voice and driving force behind a story, the one who carries it to the ends of the earth with you hanging on for the ride, working your fingers ragged to capture the story on the page.

It’s often times only in looking back when you can see how far the story deviated, and then the question becomes, what to do.

You have a story, but it wasn’t necessarily the story you intended to write. So there’s this partial story still floating around in your head still begging for attention, and a few characters that sort of got left by the wayside or had their parts stolen by someone else and they’re loud, but you’re done.

Or are you?

The story leftover after a runaway character has taken charge is still a viable story, it just might need to be told a different way. Maybe you had planned for two characters to get together and in popped a third, one who was only meant to be a secondary friend, and bam, main character decides, Naaa dude, I’m more into him.

Now you’ve got a character out in the cold, who was still fully developed, a big part of your story, and still in your head, clamoring for his story to be told.

So why not tell it. Build a series out of it? It’s always fun to play in a world previously created, and readers love to have old beloved characters pop up in unexpected places. The most important thing to remember is to have fun in the worlds you create.  Learn to see those wrong turns and runaway characters as the blessings they truly are, because each one can spark a new story.

Follow your wrong turns, even dead ends have a story to them. . See what’s revealed. Leave a marker of sorts as to where you got stuck or where a story veered off course, that way if the new course doesn’t work you always have a place to return to, or a basis for comparison between the old idea and the new.

Maybe one works better in the story you are telling than the other, but the other is just as compelling. Why not write the one that doesn’t fit in the bigger piece as a short story for an anthology or a serial on your blog. And don’t forget to revisit those old storylines. Sometimes there are common threads in several false starts. My old workshopping coach used to call it collecting underpants. Why not put them together, give those old storylines a fresh start. Give a character who was ignored or rejected in their original story a new storyline and their own story to be the star of. Maybe they become the voice they couldn’t the first time around.

Just never give up.

And never forget to look at your pieces from different angles. Flip them on their heads. Who knows what you’ll see.

About the Author

LAYLA DORINE lives among the sprawling prairies of Midwestern America, in a house with more cats than people. She loves hiking, fishing, swimming, martial arts, camping out, photography, cooking, and dabbling with several artistic mediums. In addition, she loves to travel and visit museums, historic, and haunted places.

Layla got hooked on writing as a child, starting with poetry and then branching out, and she hasn’t stopped writing since. Hard times, troubled times, the lives of her characters are never easy, but then what life is? The story is in the struggle, the journey, the triumphs and the falls. She writes about artists, musicians, loners, drifters, dreamers, hippies, bikers, truckers, hunters and all the other folks that she’s met and fallen in love with over the years. Sometimes she writes urban romance and sometimes its aliens crash landing near a roadside bar. When she isn’t writing, or wandering somewhere outdoors, she can often be found curled up with a good book and a kitty on her lap.

Layla Dorine can be found at:

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A pleasure to meet you! I’m Alina Popescu, an author, traveler, and hopeless coffee addict. I write urban fantasy, science fiction, paranormal, and sometimes even contemporary stories. A significant number of my books are LGBTQ fiction and romance.

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One Response to “From Authors to Authors: Writing Wrong Turns and Runaway Characters”

  1. T. L. Curtis says:

    Great tips! I always outline, so going back to the outline and planned character descriptions is always helpful. I once let ‘Show Her’s main character go way to the left, if you will, regarding her language and behavior. I had to step back, take a breath, and remember who she was and that it was about telling her story not having (subjectively) “cool stuff” happen when I felt like it. Thank you!

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