When Characters Threaten Your Plot!

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I had encountered a problem between writing the first and second drafts of my first book in my series. I think it is a problem that authors encounter more often than we think.
First, I’ll give you a little background. While outlining Book 1 (and planning the overall arc for the entire series of books), I went into planning the characters. My main character is a twelve year old boy. His main antagonist seemed to be his power hungry uncle. Like most villains, my uncle character had a few “allies,” including a mad scientist character. I had plans for another character, one I titled “Malcolm’s Wizard Ally” in my Evernotes…
The mad scientist and his two lackeys were all a “go.”
But I almost didn’t bother with “Malcolm’s Wizard Ally” at all, until I did something that I advise all writers to do at some point during all stages of the writing process: I got up and went for a walk. Well, I have two dogs to walk, so this makes it perfect for me to get out of the chair and get some air. (If you don’t have a dog, I still recommend going for a walk, preferably without anyone who needs to chit-chat with you while doing so.)
That walk changed the entire course of the series…because that was when I managed to fully imagine this new character in my mind, gave him a name, gave him something to do to make the main character’s life a living hell. It almost seemed like this new character was a godsend. But he turned into a distraction. Suddenly, he was popping up everywhere in the plot, even where he really had no place. He’s just like that!
Yes, he was hijacking my entire series!
I think this may happen more often with villain characters than good guys, but I could be wrong. I also have seen and heard over and over about characters that even readers will like more than the main character! Something tells me that these characters had origins just like the one I developed.
So, I had a decision to make. Do I let him just run wild all over the place and make the story all about what he’s doing to torment my main character, or do I rein the old bastard in? Confession time: half of the material I wrote for NaNoWriMo last November were scenes between this character and my main character! Therefore, I’d venture to say that I have a lot of Book 3 written (at least the first draft) already (yay me).
And I discovered something while writing out this problem character. The problem wasn’t with the villainous witch. The problem was really with my main protagonist. He was weak and was not being challenged enough. He was being coddled by the other good guy characters, and he was having too easy a time of it. I’ve found out that not making my main character strong enough allowed this sort of phenomenon to happen, that other characters began to outshine him.
Every supporting character is supposed to be just that, supporting the main character, even if that “support” is not exactly beneficial for the main character achieving their goals. Yes, it feels nice to “be nice to” my main character, but his character is not built if I make things too easy for him. By sending this new character, this force of nature, to make trouble for my main character, I’m strengthening him, not weakening him!

It turns out that my main character is going to have what it takes to rein in this character. It’ll take a few books to do it, of course ;-), but it’ll happen!
Did you ever experience this phenomenon I’ve described? I found the only way to deal with it was to write as many scenes as I could with this character and my main character and work out how to strengthen the main character so he could stand up to this guy. Had you found any other methods for dealing with this issue?
As I stated in a previous post, Camp NaNoWriMo starts next week!

Posted by SB James

I am the author of the Steampunk/Gaslamp Fantasy series "The Inventor's Son." Find out more at sbjamestheauthor.com

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