If you hang out around writers for long, you may hear them complain about their characters as if they were real people. No, we aren’t crazy. We know they aren’t actual people. But we spend so much time with them that we sometimes feel they are three dimensional. And sometimes, they even develop a mind and will of their own. When that happens, they can drive the story in a direction you ever expected.

Until recently, I’d only heard of the phenomenon from fellow writers who would complain that their characters weren’t cooperating or doing what they were told. Then, I had a project where my characters completely rebelled about halfway through the story. It was an historical romance set in the late 1890s in England (inspired by the wonderful Downton Abbey) with a lord, his valet and a young woman whom the lord was to marry. I knew from the start how the story was going to progress and how the relationships were going to change and develop. Apparently, I was wrong.

Halfway through, I realized that the second of the male main characters was really rather despicable and an asshole. And to my surprise, the first male main character realized it too and decided he was done with their illicit love affair. He was going to settle down with his wife and be happy with her. Well that was a twist I wasn’t anticipating. But it made the rest of the story have a happier ending. Or at least an ending where all of the players were temporarily satisfied (which is important for a successful romance novel).

But I learned a valuable lesson while working on this project, well okay so really it was two. The first, I should never attempt to write straight romance. I’m just not very good at it. And second, it can be a lot of fun to let your characters loose and see what they come up with. Sometimes it’s even better than you originally imagined. I’m looking forward to my next project. I have a feeling the lead characters are going to have a lot to say about how their story unfolds.