A step down from the Literary Agent Hypothesis
, this is an author who speaks about the events in his stories as if he had no control over them. He claims heartbreak when killing off a character, commiserates with the fans over the Ship Sinking
, and rants along with the fans at characters' What an Idiot
moments. Often becomes prominent when Cerebus Syndrome
Justified to a certain extent: The Rule of Drama
dictates that what makes the best story isn't always the easiest thing to write. The author might know
that killing off Bob is the most exciting/logical/dramatic/marketable course of action, but we can assume that as an author, he likes
his character and will suffer a bit of heartache over it...heartache that is going to be magnified when the move proves to be extremely unpopular, or the fans react with horror and run away screaming, "Fanon Discontinuity
This approach also tends to make an author more accessible to fans, since he comes across as just one of the group. However, some fans will call "Fridge Logic
!" by pointing out that if the author felt that
badly about the turn of events, nobody forced him to write it that way (at least, we assume not
). Writers may also risk making hypocrites of themselves if they then dictate exactly what happens in the universe and leave no room for fan speculation, beating down dissenters who write fanfic that goes against canon, or those who note that they preferred the story when it was cute and funny and Bob was still alive.
A writer who claims he just writes the thing usually takes one or both of two different forms:
- The Plot Gods Made Me Do It: "The Plot" is an entity in itself which dictates the writer's actions. If a hale and hearty character succumbs to Soap Opera Disease and dies, if the Happily Married couple break up for no apparent reason, or everything suddenly becomes very depressing, this is generally the writer's response to fan disbelief. Tends to occur more with the aforementioned "depressing" turns of events; few people ever claim that The Plot demanded a marriage, lucky break or happy ending.
- The Characters Said So: The characters have taken on lives of their own, and aren't above throwing a hissy fit if things don't go their way. The writer may be the ringmaster, but if the characters decide they're not going on stage, they're going to needle the writer until their terms and conditions are met.
See also Writing by the Seat of Your Pants
, which can lead to this.
Examples in fiction:
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Anime and Manga
- In Bakuman。, the reason why Niizuma Eiji can formulate plots so quickly is apparently because he can "see his characters move on their own."
- Multiplication by Shintaro Kago shows this in action. A single panel of normal Hentai is created, and other panels are spun off from it, but the nameless mangaka writing it keeps having to restart from the beginning after it spirals into Body Horror and Gorn. (This may or may not be an explanation of the author's own distinctive style.)
- Amazingly Played for Drama in Princess Tutu - The character Fakir is literally capable of Rewriting Reality by telling stories, but if he doesn't write well enough then his stories start conforming to reality instead of the other way around. In one instance he tries to write that monsters stopped attacking the main character...and finds he has to write that they kept attacking.
Live Action TV
- Played with in Stargate SG-1 in the episode "Citizen Joe", where an ancient device allows an ordinary citizen to see the events in Jack O'Neil's life. He tells everyone around him about the stories and eventually starts writing them down and tries to get them published. When the people he's telling the stories to ask questions (hilariously similar to ones that Viewers or Executives might ask while watching the real show), Joe dismisses them because "that's how it really happened!" Of course, in his case, that really IS what happened.
- The Comic Relief Downton Abbey spoof "Uptown Downstairs Abbey" portrays Julian Fellowes this way, making something of a catchphrase out of "How do I do it?" He also protests that he can't do anything about an actress' issues with her character, because "I just do the silly writing."
- An episode of The Twilight Zone featured a play write whose characters kept acting on their own until finally they were actually walking into his room and having conversations with him. His wife is one... and so is Rod Serling himself.
- In the Anne of Green Gables books, Anne has expressed this mentality from time to time regarding her characters. Diana is mystified as to why a writer can't kill off one of their characters if it would serve dramatic purposes.
- In The Dark Half, Thad comments in a journal entry that the characters in the novel he's writing insist on doing things he doesn't want them to do.
- Parodied in How I Became a Famous Novelist, where Preston Brooks, a famous author in-universe, says I Just Write The Thing, and the main character takes it as a sign that Brooks is a particularly pretentious fake.
- In To Boldly Flee, The Nostalgia Critic comes face-to-face with his creator. The writer says that over time, the Critic evolved to the point that the writer only had to think about what the Critic would do, rather than writing wholly original scenes. Since the writer is essentially Doug Walker as himself, this is probably the case in real life as well.
Examples in real life:
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Anime and Manga
- Matsuri Akino, writer of Pet Shop of Horrors, often speaks of Leon and D as if they were real people in her commentaries. A skit featuring Leon's A Day in the Spotlight chapter, Doom depicted the author as a director and the characters as increasingly disgruntled actors.
- In Kamen Tantei, she actually made I Just Write the Thing the centre of a plot - an obsessed fan is furious that her favourite character has been Put on a Bus. The writer tells her to get a grip, and maintains that after writing the series for such a long time, her role is simply to make sure the characters play nicely together - the plot writes itself. Was this a Take That to the author's real-life fans? Who knows, but the characters are pretty emphatic that there are forces beyond the writer's control at work.
- In some of the Calvin and Hobbes books, Watterson speaks as if he's just letting Calvin run loose to see what he does.
- In the Tenth Anniversary collection, he says that he found Calvin and Susie's relationship initially to be too forced, and in the second arc he just let the characters bounce off one another. He further notes that he very nearly wrote himself into a corner doing that.
- Lynn Johnston often used this when discussing For Better or for Worse. Dissenters consider this her way of abdicating responsibility for poor narrative decisions, but you can definitely see how characters would take on lives of their own after nearly 30 years.
- Peter David was once asked why he wrote a particular rape scene in an issue of The Atlantis Chronicles. His response? "Because that's what happened." He steadfastly rejects any suggestion that he was ultimately in control of the plot.
- The Spider-Man writers in the 70's killed off Gwen Stacy because the only logical way her relationship with Peter Parker could go would be to get married, and that would age him more than than they wanted. When asked why they had written their relationship into such a dead end in the first place, this was their explanation.
- Mark Evanier said this about DNAgents, and how it was just like many of the times while writing the Bugs Bunny comic book.
- It's become quite common for fanfic authors to apologise for the lack of porn with the excuse that the characters just wanted to talk.
- ThatPersonYouMightKnow honestly hated killing off beloved characters in The Lion King Adventures, such as Tojo, Tama and Haiba. But the story necessitated that they had to die.
- Lady Norbert maintains that everything she writes, though most especially her fanfic, is the result of a combination of this trope and Writing by the Seat of Your Pants.
- Even though Talia Shire was perfectly willing to return as Adrian in Rocky Balboa, Sylvester Stallone came to the conclusion during the scriptwriting that it would make more of a emotional impact if the character had died between Rocky V and Rocky Balboa. They even made a public statement about it, to make sure that it wasn't mistaken for a falling out between them.
Live Action TV
- This, and True Art Is Angsty, tends to be Joss Whedon's justification for killing off any of his characters. He's gotten rather known for it.
- The writers of The Wire said as much about the death of Stringer Bell.
- J. Michael Straczynski has said that whenever he got stuck writing Babylon 5, he'd just sit back and let the characters tell him what to do. In particular, he says that the part of his brain that speaks for Vir had the idea that Vir should kill Cartagia; he had planned on Londo doing it.
- Sometimes Joe would take the wheel despite the characters' wishes. He claims that all of them stopped what they were doing in his head and gave him a What the Hell, Hero? when he killed off Emperor Turhan.
- Tamora Pierce's leading lady, Alanna, was apparently so annoyed at marrying Jonathan and being made queen that she demanded her writer go back and rewrite half the book.
- Evvy, the stone mage from the second Circle series made Tamora Pierce change the entire plot because the she didn't like the teacher she was supposed to go learn from.
- The "omnipotent plot" example is played with humourously with Lemony Snickett's A Series of Unfortunate Events. He's supposedly narrating the thing, so naturally he expresses great sympathy and regret during the horrible events that occur within the book.
- Terry Pratchett has often remarked that his characters take on lives of their own, and how they turn out quite differently from how he originally envisioned them. Vimes is a notable case: He began as simply a placeholder character in Guards! Guards! to tell the story in Ankh-Morpork until Carrot got there, and ended up basically taking over the Watch series. This mirrors his in-universe Character Development, where he's gone from a drunken beat cop to an intercontinental Memetic Badass.
- Also notable is the true identity of Ronnie Soak. Pratchett found out about it about the same time the characters did.
- Also referenced in Equal Rites:
Because this is also a story about sex, although probably not in the athletic, tumbling, count-the-legs-and-divide-by-two sense unless the characters get totally beyond the author's control. They might.
- According to the afterword of Good Omens, which he co-wrote with Neil Gaiman, one of them congratulated the other on a bit both were absolutely sure they didn't write. They suspected the book had begun writing itself when they weren't looking.
- Jodi Picoult would call up her friends to update them on what exciting things her characters were doing.
- This is a running theme in the final arc of The Dark Tower series. The author, Stephen King, shows how real the story is by giving the characters so much life that he himself appears as a character. And it actually works, partly because he's distinctly unflattering to himself. In the final book, he starts leaving the characters little notes in medicine cabinets as an acknowledged deus ex machina — he knows what happens and so can warn them, but says repeatedly that he's sure as hell not making it happen.
- This is actually King's usual style of writing—put people with certain personalities in certain situations, then extrapolate what they would do. In On Writing he compares it to digging something up rather than making it. (He can write in a more normal style, but with the exception of The Dead Zone he usually dislikes the results.)
- Jonathon Stroud, author of The Bartimaeus Trilogy, said he experimented with various endings, but only one was truthful to the story and the characters. In the end Nathaniel, one of the main characters, dies.
- T.S. Eliot wrote entire essays based around the belief that writing is fundamentally intellectual, not passionate, and the author is simply a vessel for the work. This was a rebellion against the Romantic poets who claimed that all work comes from the author's heart and thus there is no "impersonal" writing.
- From her series Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, Louise Rennison often speaks of Georgia this way - although given that she's stated that Georgia is pretty much the writer herself as a teenager, the character technically is a real person.
- J. K. Rowling does the Plot Gods version, claiming to have cried while writing the deaths of Sirius and Dumbledore, but going ahead because that was what the plot demanded.
- She also said that she changed her mind about killing one character because she couldn't bear to kill them. The theory goes that Nagini's attack on Arthur Weasley in the fifth book would have been fatal.
- In the Doctor Who Expanded Universe book Who Killed Kennedy, a number of extremely unpleasant things happen to Dodo, a former companion of the Doctor. In the author's commentary, he puts the blame for this on Dodo herself:
What happens to Dodo is probably one of the more controversial aspects of Who Killed Kennedy. She was a late addition to the cast of the cast and was originally only going to appear in this chapter, passing on information to Stevens. But once she appeared on the page Dodo wanted to stick around. It's a strange experience when a character takes charge of their own destiny while you're writing and Dodo was the first time this had happened to me.
- Matthew Reilly claims to be constrained by Anyone Can Die. According to interviews, he had a hard time killing off Elizabeth Gant, but forced himself to go through with the scene to keep the audience in suspense that the main characters might not make it.
- Ray Bradbury has said that his characters take on a life of their own, and he often learns new things from them that even he didn't know about. He also criticised the idea that the writer is the boss
Interviewer: I remember listening to a writer talk about her characters once. She said that she was the boss, and they were puppets: they went exactly where she told them, did what she ordered them to do...
Ray Bradbury: You can't do that. That's bad writing. They must write you. They must control you. They plot me. I never control. I let them have their lives.
IV: Is that leap of faith scary?
RB: No, it's wonderful. I love my characters. I trust them.
- In The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer apologizes for having to record The Miller's Tale.
- Which is Hilarious in Hindsight, because the Miller's Tale is one of the stories that people like the most, even today, precisely because of the crude humor. It's just great to go into what you think is going to be tedious old literature, and get a story about Literal Ass Kissing.
- Ryohgo Narita, the author of Baccano!, says that the plot changes according to the characters' "movements". In particular, he calls Claire Stanfield the "number one problem child" for moving around too much and leaving the plot of the third novel "in ruins".
- Sandy Mitchell on his character Ciaphas Cain:
Is he really the cowardly scoundrel he paints himself to be, or far more courageous than he gives himself credit for? To be perfectly honest, I don't really know, although I suspect a little of both; but that's one of the real joys of a writer's life. I may have invented him in the first place, inspired to some extent by Harry Flashman
and Edmund Blackadder
, but by now he's become enough of a personality in his own right to keep surprising me, and long may he continue to do so.
- George R. R. Martin says as much when asked about the Red Wedding in A Storm of Swords, even that he put off writing the scene until the rest of the novel was finished.
- Towards the end of Roald Dahl's Henry Sugar story, Dahl/the narrator goes off on a tangent about how the story would end if it were just a story being written by some guy. But since it's a TRUE STORY he goes on to explain that's NOT what happens and details the actual not-quite-an-ending (ie Life goes on) that "really happened"
- Stephenie Meyer uses the Characters Said So version of this.
- Thomas Harris used this as an excuse for the ending of Hannibal, citing the old story of the sultan who said, "I do not keep falcons; they live with me."
- In his introduction to a later addition of the trilogy he also describes being a spectator to Graham's first meeting with Lecter, and being surprised when Lecter identifies Graham by smell, suggesting that the character had taken on a life of his own before the author even "met" him.
- Ayn Rand, believe it or not. She said that Tony's (the Wet Nurse's) final actions in Atlas Shrugged came as a surprise to her.
- According to her biography, Dragonholder, Anne McCaffrey is this type of writer. The biographer (her son) recounts an incident when Anne's then-husband found her weeping over the fate of one of her protagonists, and she explained that she just killed off her hero. He suggested that since she was the author, she could change it, and she replied, "No, I had to. That's how the story goes."
- Dennis Lehane explains the 11 year gap between novels in the Kenzie and Gennaro series as the result of the lead character, Patrick, refusing to talk to him for that amount of time.
- Advised against in How NOT to Write a Novel ("The Fig Leaf"). If you don't agree with what you are writing, you should not complain about it or not write it. And if you do agree with it, protesting otherwise will most likely not work and will just make you look like a hypocrite.
- Douglas Adams once described the difficult process of converting the film script Doctor Who and the Krikketmen into The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy novel Life, the Universe and Everything, by saying he sat the main characters down, explained the plot to them, and none of them seemed at all interested.
- J. R. R. Tolkien often remarked that at several points in the composition of The Lord of the Rings, he felt as though he were discovering the plot rather than creating it, and often had to wait a long time until he could figure out "what really happened"; he didn't know, for example, that the character of Faramir was even going to be in the story until the chapter that introduced him.
- Patricia C. Wrede has commented that the plot outline for The Raven Ring looked rather different than the version she wound up writing, because about halfway through one of the characters flatly refused to do what he was supposed to do, and by the time the scene was over the story had gone down a completely different path.
- The academic introductions to several Emile Zola novels explain he saw his work as a "social experiment" with him only writing down what the characters would do in that situation.
- Agatha Christie once commented that she hated Hercule Poirot, but he made it clear she couldn't just get rid of him.
- In the Vorkosigan Saga RPG, it's recommended that the GM not include Miles Vorkosigan as an NPC. "If you include him, he'll try to take over the plot from the PCs. If he doesn't try to take over the plot, you're not doing him right."
- Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello dramatises the writing of a play and portrays an author's characters as driving his writing, including arguing about whether the setting is realistic, rather than having the author in full control.
- Tom Siddell, creator of Gunnerkrigg Court, does a less emotionally invested version of this, which is pretty distinctive, as most examples of this trope are a result of the author's emotional investment with both the characters and the fans. The commentaries of GC often sound like someone standing on the sidelines, watching things happen and delivering the occasional Take That against the 'shippers.
- Sandra K. Fuhr. the creator of Boy Meets Boy, Friendly Hostility and Other People's Business, employs both character and plot versions of the trope, often speaking of the characters as if they were friends who don't tell her everything that goes on in their lives and who she often eventually loses contact with. Years after BMB ended, she "supposes" that Mik and Harley are still happy together (although that may be a quick answer for a disliked topic). In OPB, this enables still more mystery, since it's a bit of a Mind Screw with more than one Unreliable Narrator ? and practically guarantees that there will be no unilaterally happy endings. Particularly notable is that despite the "I Just Write the Thing" attitude, Fuhr is extremely organised and writes her storylines months, if not years, in advance.
- This led to some Flip Flop of God at the end of Friendly Hostility however; many fans claimed that the Bittersweet Ending was the only believable outcome for the Cerebus Syndrome plot and increasingly distraught Fox and Collin (and thus the ending was written to suit the characters). However, later the author claimed that she had Other People's Business in mind for at least two years, and had actually spent the final years of Friendly Hostility dismantling the formerly perfect relationship to pave the way for the sequel comic (and so the characters were changed to enable the plot).
- Sage Leaves, the author of Blip, frequently posts in The Rant to say how much they disagree with a character's Take That against a rock band or recent movie.
- Jeph Jacques of Questionable Content.
- Dan Shive, the author of El Goonish Shive frequently uses The Rant to post disagreements that he had with his characters over a particular strip. This is usually simply complaining about his characters ruining a perfectly good dramatic moment, but sometimes it is as extreme as him actually losing an argument with one of his characters.
- Parodied in Terror Island, where the writers claim that their theorems are logically derived from universal axioms and they have no control over their content.
- The Rant under one strip of Burning Stickman Presents...Something! notes that the author had intended for the strip to end a certain way, but then "the comic decided otherwise."
- 1/0, being the No Fourth Wall comic that it is, has many instances like this. For example, the characters going on strike: refusing to move or act or think until the author agrees to their demands! For a comic like 1/0, you basically have to assume that the author has no control over his characters at all.
- It's pretty much stated in-universe. The author created the characters with their personalities, and he lets those personalities run the show, allowing the story to develop pretty much on it's own without the author inserting any external events. This tendency is called into focus when the characters threaten to conduct scientific tests of how their universe works, forcing the author to come up with consistent rules for the laws of reality of the comic. The author strikes a deal with them to prevent them from forcing him to make up more things about the setting.
- Sonichu author Christian Chandler really does believe that the characters he uses exist in some sort of alternate reality. He has apparently even "spoken" to some of them in real life.
- R.K. Milholland of Something Positive also plots out events years ahead of time or has notes of events he intends to do at certain points. Some of those get shelved because the characters moved in a different direction that doesn't work anymore.
- Jennifer Diane Reitz claims that most of the plot of Unicorn Jelly came to her in visions. This is also her explanation for why the ending is somewhat disjointed - she got that vision ahead of schedule after wondering aloud how it was going to end, and could only remember pieces of it afterwards.
- K. Lin, author of Institute of Metaphysics, talks about how a character "mentally strong-armed" her into writing one of the story arcs here
- No matter what Play By Post role play you play, you will ALWAYS stumble across one of these guys.
- Any form of role-playing (forum- and journal- based games especially) has a tendency to induce this, as a character may be created with a specific personality and goal in mind but will become unintentionally more or less sympathetic depending on other characters, players, etc. Many characters evolve past their original write-up, either because the character's "voice" becomes clearer or the player plays this trope. This can lead to unfortunate situations in which players are unable to release even characters slated to die by Word of God.
- Greg Weisman, creator of Gargoyles, has recounted a few plot points in this fashion. In particular, the revelation that Puck is Owen came in a flash of "so that's it!" rather than "wouldn't it be neat if...?"