Wicked Wednesday – Character Surprises, Part II

Welcome back, readers. This is part two of our question from last week. We talked about whether our characters can surprise us, or if we should know them well enough that they don’t. So if any of your characters have surprised you, Wickeds, tell us who and how! Did it help the overall story line? Give you a new subplot? Add a new twist? And do you wish you’d reigned him or her back in? Go!

Edith/Maddie: In the first book of my Country Store Mysteries, Robbie starts getting to know local electrical lineman Abe O’Neil. In book two they are dating, and my fingers typed a sentence with (divorced) Abe telling Robbie he had to pick up his son. What? I didn’t know he had a son before that! But I loved it. Having Abe parent 13-year-old Sean makes Abe a richer character and adds some possible conflict and tension to the future of Abe and Robbie’s relationship. Rose Carroll, plucky but usually pious and teetotaling 1889 Quaker, totally surprised me by getting drunk with her friend Bertie (not a Quaker) one night in book five. It didn’t change the overall plot but showed her displaying a human weakness that I think makes her a fuller person.

Liz: When my character Stan came to Frog Ledge, she met Resident State Trooper Jessie Pasquale in a pretty charged manner – Jessie was accusing her of murder. At the time, I knew the basics about her, namely that she was Stan’s future love interest’s sister, which I figured would be ripe for conflict. What I didn’t anticipate was the relationship between Stan and Jessie developing to the point where they actually became grudging friends – while still having enough opportunities for conflict to make it interesting!

Sherry: Seth Anderson surprised me in Tagged for Death. He was supposed to be a nameless, faceless character with a passing mention. But he kept coming back. I wrote a blog post about it on Jungle Red Writers which you can read here. This is what makes writing so much fun — finding things out like how Sarah met CJ and why someone killed someone. It keeps me going!!!

Julie: I have characters surprise me all the time. In my Theater Cop series, I am enjoying seeing how Sully is evolving, and how she and Emma are becoming friends. In my new series, I’ve set it up with one primary protagonist, but three of her friends share the Garden Squad badge. I am working on book two, and I’m uncovering a ton of secrets. It makes it so much more fun for me as the writer to not know.

Jessie: All the recurring characters in my Beryl and Edwina series keep surprising me again and again. With each book in the series I write surprises about the characters back stories or  preferences keep popping up with startling regularity.  Beryl is not a fan of subterranean spaces, Edwina has a  weakness for western novels, Simpkins has a rascal of a brother-in-law. I love discovering more and more about each of them!

Barb: Since the third book in the Maine Clambake Mysteries Julia’s been aware that her boyfriend Chris loves being a part of her family. He has said often, “My family is not like yours.” It’s come out that his parents are in Florida, his sister on the west coast–as far from one another as they can be in the continental U.S. But what happened? I knew some of it, but not much, until it all came out in this December’s Steamed Open.

Readers, do you like when a character does something unexpected? Or do you prefer feeling like you know your favorites so well that you can always anticipate their every move? Tell us below.

22 Thoughts

  1. Such a great blog and I can relate as a reader and an author. In the outline of Murder on Memory Lake I thought I knew who the murderer was. Then I started writing and halfway through it became very clear to me through this other character’s words and actions that this character was actually the murderer. Talk about a surprise!

  2. Talk about unexpected…I just looked up Murder Flies the Coop at my library and got not only that but Edith’s Murder most Fowl. I love my library.

  3. Great discussion! In my latest release, Sipped, NYS Trooper Hank Moran treats amateur sleuth Lyssa Pennington with uncharacteristic hostility and suspicion. It took me by surprise, but he wouldn’t back down. Turns out he wasn’t just having a bad day. Many of my readers also want to know what’s up with hero Hank? We’ll find out in the next book in series.

  4. Isn’t it fun when that happens? (Although sometimes it leaves you wondering just what is going on in your head while you’re not looking.) I was very surprised when Nell Pratt in the Museum Mysteries grabbed boyfriend (I hate that term) FBI agent James’s gun and shot the bad guy who was attacking them (no, he wasn’t dead, just wounded). I had no idea she knew how to shoot (and did it well). And then she (I) had to explain why.

  5. I had an experience like Sherry. Tom Burns, my young deputy coroner, was supposed to be a one-off character for a short story (“Death & Politics”). But he sat down, put his feet on the coffee table, and refused to leave! I’m glad, because he’s my opportunity to have a “funny” character and he’s fun to write.

  6. My characters often surprise me. Memorable surprise came in book #1, where I’d planned for Scott to be the male interest and for Pete to just be the cop on the case. Turned out Lee didn’t like Scott and neither did I. Pete wins! Smaller surprises happen often. I didn’t know until Book #4 that Rhonda the receptionist has several degrees. Pete’s sister Marie’s husband is Donnie!

  7. My characters are always surprising me. And I enjoy reading about characters who do surprising things sometimes. Just like in real life, it’s hard to predict someone else’s every move!

  8. I really like it when a character does something unexpected. It makes that character more believable. Just as in “real life”, no one is one dimensional. Thanks for the great post!

  9. I love to be surprised by an unexpected side of a character as long as it either explains something about the character’s attitude or general being. The earlier unknown has to “fit” the character, tho’, and not just be some off-the-wall gimmick. We all have backgrounds that others don’t know about that explain some of our behaviors.

  10. I do like it when characters do the unexpected. It adds depth and sometimes the surprises are fun. That’s not the same as them doing something totally out of characters that makes you now dislike them (unless they’re the villain of course). And I love hearing how authors are just as surprised.

  11. I think it is wonderful when characters surprise the writer, and the revelation opens up this flow of creativity. In Crooked Gold: A Jack Swift Case, I was planning on keeping Jim Beckett a bleak, hard boiled detective, but as I started developing his personality and past (in my spreadsheet), he began to grow by accepting his younger partner and knowing his limitations–though he still can’t give up the chase. He realized more that everyone had demons, not just him. The only downfall of a character surprising you is if it happens late in the story and you have to go back and change a few things in the beginning and middle. Who doesn’t like redrafts though? 🙂

  12. I enjoy being surprised, as long as the surprise is still in character.

    I surprised some friends this weekend, so it can definitely happen in real life, so it should happen in fiction, too.

  13. Late chiming in here; been away all week and a backlog of posts to catch up on. But so much appreciated this one. As both a writer and a reader, I appreciate when characters reveal something new and unexpected about themselves. In fact, I’ve always said that while a plot twist might provide some satisfactory end to a story, a character twist is usually far more satisfying–and the two together make magic. Just wish I could pull it off more often myself!

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