A Plotting Challenge: When Fictional Characters Won’t Behave

Confused about plotting? A reader said that she’s giving up on her current novel because “her characters won’t behave.” She doesn’t like them, nor does she believe in them.

Here’s a secret. Misbehaving characters can be a GOOD thing. Usually, it happens when you’re trying to make a character do something he can’t naturally do.

It’s wonderful: it means that your fiction is coming alive. The plot is what your characters do, so your story people need to act—but how they act depends on their nature.

Have you heard the fable of the scorpion and the frog?

Plotting and characters: The scorpion and the frog

A scorpion wants to escape floodwaters and asks a frog to carry him to dry ground. Although the frog fears the scorpion’s sting and refuses, the scorpion promises he won’t sting. After all, he says: “If I kill you, I die too.”

In the middle of the floodwaters, the scorpion stings the frog.

“Why?” The frog splutters as he weakens and sinks.

“I’m a scorpion, what did you expect from me?” the creature says as it’s carried away in the flood.

Everything acts according to its nature. When characters won’t behave, change your plot.

Change your plot as needed to help your story come alive

Here’s an example. I’m writing a historical romance for a ghostwriting client. All was well; I’d created the main characters and an initial list of scenes.

After writing three scenes, around 5,000 words, I realized I’d yet to introduce Lord Hero. He should have been in the first scene; the second, at the latest. Unfortunately, in the first scene, a man employed by the hero tries to kill the heroine.

Hmmm… Lord Hero wasn’t hero material. Everything acts according to its nature, so if he hired would-be killers, he wasn’t a hero.

I killed the scenes’ list in its current form and introduced a new hero. The former Lord Hero became the villain, the antagonist.

I was thrilled and became excited about the novel; the characters had become real to me.

When you’re plotting, be thrilled when characters misbehave

When a character acts according to their nature, great.

Get plotting. Take advantage of this because it means that your fiction is alive. Well done. 🤗

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