I'm an apostle of the 'life in your characters' controlling the story - to a degree. I'm currently in Chapter 6 of my latest Steele novel 'Most Wanted Artefact' and the plan has set me and my characters off in a direction, but the activity is more in the control of Patrick Steele and Naomi Kobayashi. Now it is my belief that this is a good thing and I will explain why.
When you begin writing a story those people who reckon they know about story writing will tell you to make your characters 'believable', or they will tell you to 'put flesh on the bones of your character', or some such trite advice. To a degree they are trying to get you to create a real person on the page which of course is correct. What they don't tell you is that part of the art of writing is the skill of character development and that the more time that you spend creating characters the better you will become at that skill.
I am the last person in the world to blow my own trumpet and so as the characters in the Steele novels develop they have begun to take over for themselves. I take that as a sign that I'm doing a good job. That is backed up by verbal reviews from a few people who have bought my books and taken the time to make comment. In fact I received such a comment last weekend when someone, having read Cessation, called me 'a bastard' for not ending it in the way he was expecting! He was joking but I was gratified that what he'd actually said was that he'd got so far into the personalities and character of the lead players in that book that it had initiated an emotional response in him.
Apart from selling loads of books I can think of no greater compliment than having had a reader becoming emotionally involved in one of my stories.
So who is in control in a story? Well obviously the writer but the characters will drive the story forward according to their personalities, skills and experiences. The writer gives the characters those facets and sets them in a direction but then they will take over. In my last chapter something happened that I hadn't planned but to help you understand where I'm coming from with this I will give you a brief thumbnail sketch of the two people involved.
Patrick A Steele
An Englishman through an through who has a tendency to the obsessive/compulsive coupled with a strong sense of justice and injustice. He feels the need to bring justice to those who are less able to obtain it for themselves but he is not constrained by the rule of law. He is physically very capable, has a number of skills developed in his earlier life and is training in Aikido.
A Japanese girl of unknown background who was raised by the Gurentai and is a master in the use of Aikido and knives. She is ruthlessly efficient, extremely confident and is massively in love with Patrick. As a disciple of the Gurentai she has been involved in previous activities related to the bringing of justice to those less fortunate but at the instigation of the sub group of the Yakuza.
So these are the two people who are central to the Steele novels. In the last chapter, quite impulsively, Naomi took over and instigated the break in to a villain's lair without planning. Patrick was immediately thrown out of his comfort zone. He is OCD so of course he would be.
From my point of view a break in to the villain's penthouse apartment was going to happen but Naomi jumped in with both feet and Patrick had no choice but to follow. What happened you will read when the book is completed. BUT the point is that action wasn't planned for that moment. The character did take over and did instigate the action which created risk. The knock on affect could take a number of directions. Naomi proposed to Patrick in an earlier book. Will this type of precipitate action upset Patrick enough to damage their emotional relationship? You will need to read on to find out.
If the characters weren't well enough formed the above interactions would be impossible and through practice I believe that I have acquired some skill. If I can do it so can you. One thing I will say is that I haven't done many paper based character creating exercises but as part of my writing process I internalise and imagine the people I put into my books and I also think of them interacting with others.
If you don't take the first step you will never know the joy of independent action instigated by someone you have created on the page.