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I Just Write the Thing

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"You know, sometimes people say to me, 'Why do you choose to write that creepy stuff?' And I usually say, 'What makes you think I have a choice?'"

A step down from the Literary Agent Hypothesis, this is an author who speaks about the events in their stories as if they had no control over them. The author claims heartbreak when a character gets Killed Off for Real, commiserates with the fans over the Ship Sinking, laments when Character Derailment strikes, and rants along with the fans at characters' idiotic moments.

This attitude is 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, they like their character and will suffer a bit of heartache over it... heartache which is going to be magnified when the move proves to be extremely unpopular, or the fans react with horror and run away screaming, "That never happened!"

This approach also tends to make an author more accessible to fans, since they come 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 them 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 Bob was still alive.

A writer who claims they just write 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. So this form of the trope is often prominent when Cerebus Syndrome strikes.
  • 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.

It’s also important to note that this is not necessarily a case of an author pretending to believe this. As a perusal of the real life section will demonstrate, many of the more successful authors have noted a tendency for their stronger works to "write themselves" in bursts of inspiration that they then simply scramble to write down before they forget the idea.

Stephen King, in fact, has mentioned a personal theory that in order to write a truly great work of fiction, an author must embrace this idea. His reasoning is that if a writer can convince themselves on some level, even briefly, that the world they are creating does in fact exist and is not completely within their control, a work ceases to be based purely on Wish-Fulfillment and Author Appeal, and begins to tap into the subconscious and random passing thoughts of the author. At this point, a work becomes something that can legitimately surprise even the author, in the same way that a dream can surprise a dreamer. Characters do things that the author doesn't like, events happen because the author doesn't want them to happen, Author Phobias leak into works that were supposed to be lighthearted comedies. At its best, the story is intuitive and satisfying, and the author is less inclined to play favorites and fiddle with their Author Powers to craft Deus ex Machina events where convenient.

See also Writing by the Seat of Your Pants, which can lead to this. At its source, the Death of the Author theory builds on a variant of this idea, that a writer is a "conduit" for a story, and when their work is done their opinion on it is no more important than any other reader's. It can also happen when it’s not the plot or characters but the executives who demand a story be written a certain way, and the author has no choice but to comply- for that, see Executive Meddling.

Compare Daydream Believer, when the fans take this to its logical conclusion and believe that the fictional characters literally exist somewhere out there.

Examples in fiction:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Bakuman。, the reason why Eiji Niizuma 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.
  • 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.

    Fan Works 
  • Scootertrix the Abridged makes this an occasionally recurring theme:
    • Pinkie Pie knows she's a fictional character in an abridged series and can see the future by Reading Ahead in the Script. But when asked if the existence of the Script implies that her (and other character's) free will is just an illusion, Pinkie answers no, because the Script "changes all the time" in response to characters' choices. The character guide the Script, rather than vice versa.
    • In contrast with Pinkie, the villain Discord is a Reality Warper who behaves like a heavy-handed author focusing on plot over character. He does overtly believe that the Script controls the characters—and this misunderstanding leads directly to his defeat. (Specifically, Discord tries to force Princess Luna into a Face–Heel Turn by rewriting some of her dialogue—but Luna fails to turn, and Discord's grand plan comes unraveled.)
  • Varric maintains this philosophy, much as he does in canon, in Beyond Heroes: Of Sunshine and Red Lyrium. When Bethany inquires as to when his current novel might be finished, he explains that he doesn't really know. "I just do what the characters tell me to do, and they can be really annoying sometimes." (This slightly overlaps with Leaning on the Fourth Wall, because the writer of the fanfic occasionally says the same thing about Varric himself.)

    Comic Books 
  • Cerebus the Aardvark: At the end of Rick's Story, Cerebus, after spending an entire decade in a bar (and more than two years in real life!) simply refuses to leave and do anything interesting, even at the urging of Dave Sim. Eventually Jaka (or a Jaka simulacrum) has to show up and lure Cerebus away.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The Man Who Invented Christmas show that the character-driven version was a major part of the creative process for Charles Dickens. At one point he even tells Scrooge that the characters should do what he wants them to do, since "I'm the author!" Scrooge's response is an amused denial.

  • 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.
    • Invoked much more heavily in the "Emily" trilogy, which is also much more autobiographical than Anne of Green Gables. Its description makes writing feel on par with a religious experience. It gets Emily into trouble when she refuses to change traits that give her characters superficial resemblances to her real life family and neighbours.
  • 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. Though when you consider the fact that the pen name Thad created became an actual person, he might be telling the truth...
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • This trope veers all over the place in Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books. Are the Bookworld characters just playing what the author wrote, or are they putting the original ideas into their mind? When you consider that Thursday changes the end of Jane Eyre it becomes even more confusing!

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: "The Mind Robber" ends in a confrontation between the Doctor and a Victorian children's author whose writing creates the universe they were in. Even though the writer claims to be in control, the Doctor points out that the story is controlling him in a way clearly reminiscent of this trope. The story's control over him is even represented as mechanical parts and the writer lapsing from his usual genial personality into Robo Speak as he performs the story's bidding.
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • An episode of The Twilight Zone (1959) featured a playwright whose characters kept acting on their own until finally they walked into his room and started a conversation with him. His wife is one... and so is Rod Serling himself.

  • 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.
  • The narrator in Into the Woods has no more control over the events of the play than the characters, as proved when they band together and kill him.

    Video Games 
  • Played for Drama and averted in Alan Wake. Writers who go to Cauldron Lake are struck with inspiration and make some of the best work of their careers, but the lake houses the Dark Presence. It gives them the power to rewrite reality, but it's constantly trying to usurp the stories to free itself by forcing the writer to make stories where it wins or using plotholes. The book Alan is writing is the villain, so he has to figure out how to defeat his own plot.
    • For additional Mind Screw: Characters within the story may not have existed before, most notably the poet Thomas Zane. When Alan confronts Zane in the DLC to try to determine if Zane wrote (and therefore created) Alan, or if Alan wrote (and therefore created) Zane, Zane literally can't answer, because he doesn't know (and he's actually confused by the possibility). And neither does Alan.
  • In Dragon Age II, this is Varric's response when Aveline asks how his city guard serial (which includes a character loosely based on her) is going to end. "The story will go where it wants to go. The characters drive it, not me." He reiterates the sentiment in Dragon Age: Inquisition when talking about his body of work in general, noting that "You don't really write a good story. It was there the whole time. You just uncover it."
  • In Cassette Beasts, one of the recruitable characters, Felix, is an artist who specialises in zoetropes. During his Level 5 conversation, he remarks that he doesn't know how his latest zoetrope will end yet, and that it's up to the characters to decide that for him. Given that the game is set in a world where fictional characters can come to life, and one of his past creations has already done so, he's more justified in believing this than most examples.

    Web Animation 
  • Homestar Runner: In the 2018 Halloween cartoon "Mr. Poofers Must Die", Homestar and friends try to tell a scary story in which an adorable dog named Mr. Poofers gets killed off. But no matter how much they try, their stories go off the rails, leaving everyone convinced Mr. Poofers is "too powerful".

    Web Videos 
  • Half the point of the Fantasy Heroine series is that the characters (especially protagonist Rosamund) go out of their way to defy the intent of Caroline, the author.
  • 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 & Manga 
  • Kentaro Yabuki stated in the volume comments for Black Cat that his characters "have a tendency to escape from me". One chapter of Ayakashi Triangle ends with Matsuri deciding to tell Yayo and Lu how he used to be male, which Yabuki described as something he was surprised to discover after he'd already started the chapter's storyboard.
    When a character wants to act in this way, I try not to go against it.
  • Katsura Hoshino, author of D.Gray-Man often mentions in her interviews how her characters "refused to do this" or "decided to do that", even saying that she was surprised by their behaviours.
  • 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 Limelight chapter, Doom depicted the author as a director and the characters as increasingly disgruntled actors.
    • In Kamen Tantei, she made this 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.
  • Yuri!!! on Ice: According to Kubo, her initial ideas were knocked off-track when Yuri and Victor fell in love instead of keeping their relationship strictly as coach and skater as initially intended, and certain plot points such as the possibility of separating the pair at the end of the series, no longer made any sense. In short, the characters hijacked the plot.

    Comic Books 
  • 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.
  • This was the defense used by EIC Roy Thomas in the letters column defending The Night Gwen Stacy Died. Thomas said that Gwen's death was 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. The reality was that editors killed off Gwen because they, and a majority of readers, thought she was a bland disposable character.
  • Mark Evanier said this about DNAgents, and how it was just like many of the times while writing the Bugs Bunny comic book.
  • The creators of the 90s Superman books have said that the plan was for Lois Lane to turn down Clark's proposal because she was holding a torch for Supes. When it came time to write it, though, they realised that this simply wasn't what the Lois they'd been writing for the past ten years would do.

    Comic Strips 
  • 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.

    Fan Works 
  • 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.
  • Nimbus Llewelyn has similarly remarked that while he tends to have a sketched outline of a grand plan, the details are often subject to change, usually at the last minute. He's also noted that several things, including the budding romances between Uhtred and Jean-Paul, and Harry Dresden and Wanda Maximoff, in Child of the Storm took him entirely by surprise. He also more or less invoked the trope when it came to the developing romance between Carol and Harry (Harry Potter), originally having intended for them to just be close friends. About forty chapters of vagueness later, he grudgingly admitted a)that the Portmanteau Couple Name was cute, and b) that they saw each other as more than friends.
  • One of A.A. Pessimal's most finely-realised characters was only ever meant to appear in one story as an expansion of a one-line placeholder in canon. She was originally intended to be a rather stroppy "South African" who took all the National Stereotypes of "White South African-ness" up a notch in a Discworld context, and, very deliberately, be hard for the reader to like or sympathise with. And that would have been it. Only... as Word of God has it, this late-entry Assassin ended up standing behind Pessimal with a very large blade at his neck, demanding he write her more sympathetically and make her more of an Action Girl heroine. Thus, the nineteen-year old new arrival in Ankh-Morpork evolved over a series of tales into a more mellow forty-something mother of three daughters. And her family started to appear in such numbers that the author realised he'd better make an effort to learn some Afrikaans and not keep winging it.
  • Weasley Girl author Roo has made this claim on occasion, mostly of the Because The Characters Say So variant. Most notably the big revelation in Secrets of the Past that Ronnie is a lesbian is revealed as something the character informed the author. Same author also briefly discusses the trope in the very meta story Hermione Granger's Guide To Gender-Flip Fiction. Here, the moment when a character begins feeling so three-dimensional that they write themselves is explored from the point of view of the characters, and it's referred to as "the Happening."
  • Jack Getschman, the lead writer on Scootertrix the Abridged, initially planned for a big series finale twist to reveal that Pinkie Pie was Evil All Along. However, as the season progressed, he realized Pinkie was being far too nice for that twist to make any sense. He noted that the last straw was in episode 14, when Pinkie was the only pony to comfort Rarity. So Getschman scrapped his plan and wrote a new story arc to better fit Pinkie's development—and in the next episode, he gave Pinkie a short speech about how characters guide the Script (and not the other way around) as an oblique commentary on this development.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • When discussing Drag Me to Hell, Sam Raimi states that while in his view the Cruel Twist Ending was earned by the protagonist, "Maybe she was a little over punished. I wouldn't have been as harsh personally." But this also showed how she is relatable because Raimi himself is flawed like her — "I wish I had more noble problems. She’s such an awful character, it's really embarrassing. That’s how writers work I think."



  • Ben Aaronovitch on Rivers of London: "What usually happens is I start writing and the characters start going off in all sorts of directions, and I'm going 'No! Get back to the plot, you bastards!'" He also describes how a character can exist just to say a line or something, and then an entire backstory and personality appears from nowhere and you've got to rewrite the rest of the story to fit them.
    Which is why, sometimes, when people ask me where the series is going the only answer I can give is — beats me mate, I just work here.
  • 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.
  • In her essay My Friend Mr Campion, Margery Allingham wrote that Albert Campion just appeared at the dinner table in The Crime at Black Dudley, and she had no idea who he was or what he was doing there, which was annoying as that was very much not the way she normally wrote.
  • 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.
  • Agatha Christie once commented that she hated Hercule Poirot, but he made it clear she couldn't just get rid of him.
  • 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 (i.e. Life goes on) that "really happened"
  • 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.
  • 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 edition 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.
  • Sarah A. Hoyt stated that stories tend to just leap into her head, usually at rather inopportune times, and refuse to go away.
  • Stephen King:
    • This is a running theme in the final arc of The Dark Tower series. The author shows how real the story is by giving the characters so much life that he himself appears as a character. It 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 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 the "make it up" style, but with the exception of The Dead Zone he usually dislikes the results.)
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • Real-life con response from 2003 when asked why he kills so many of his characters: "I don't. They kill each other."
    • He's also talked about how authors have both "architect and gardener" impulses in themselves. Where Architects have a plan before starting to build "the house", while gardeners plant a seed and watch things grow. And he admits to being more a gardener himself.
  • According to her biography, Dragonholder, Anne McCaffrey was this type of writer. The biographer (her son and later co-author, Todd) 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." Todd observes in the narrative that his father had walked away shaking his head, and that his inability to respect Anne's creative process was a strong indication of why their marriage eventually fell apart.
  • Sandy Mitchell on his character Ciaphas Cain, THE HERO OF THE IMPERIUM:
    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.
    • This is also self-admittedly how he finds his plots: he envisions a suitably spectacular climax, puts Cain in it, and retraces his steps to figure out why and how Cain got there.
  • 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".
  • Indie writer Kate Paulk, in one blog post, uses this to describe her characters:’ve probably also got at least one irritated character because you wrote them doing something they didn’t do, so – of course – they don’t want to talk to you (Avoiding this is why I mentally rehearse multiple options before I actually write the scene. Usually, anyway. Sometimes they just push it on me then cuss me out because they got it wrong or they want a rewrite. Demanding SOBs).
  • Jodi Picoult would call up her friends to update them on what exciting things her characters were doing.
  • Tamora Pierce:
    • In the Tortall Universe, 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.
    • Similarly, Lord Wyldon of Cavall's reaction to being written as a villain was a Little "No", and he ultimately wound up as a beloved Ensemble Dark Horse for a generation of young women.
    • One that occurred in hindsight: All of Kel's romances in her quartet wound up fizzling out for some reason or another and she ultimately ends up with no one. It was only years later that Pierce realized that Kel was aromantic and asexual, and was just going along with the plot because she was too polite to say no.
    • Evvy, the stone mage from The Circle Opens, made Tamora Pierce change the entire plot because she didn't like the teacher she was supposed to go learn from.
  • 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 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.
    • The Assassins' Exam sequence in Pyramids apparently appeared in a haze of creativity using authors' autopilot
    • 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.
    • He also occasionally referred to the "much better writer" who used his brain while he was asleep, and occasionally left fragments of an idea behind.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • From her series Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, Louise Rennison often speaks of Georgia this way - although given that she's stated that Georgia is the writer herself as a teenager, the character technically is a real person.
  • In an FAQ for The Heroes of Olympus, Rick Riordan said that Nico being gay and having a crush on Percy wasn't as much something he planned as something that became more and more obvious as he was writing.
  • J. K. Rowling:
    • The Plot Gods made a decision that she claimed made her cry while writing the deaths of Sirius and Dumbledore. She went ahead because that was what the plot demanded.
    • She 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. However, as a bit of compensation, Rowling stated that saving Arthur might have had an influence in her decision to kill off Lupin and Tonks. In other words, the Plot Gods demand a sacrifice; if one is spared another must take their place.
  • In The Mind of the Maker, Dorothy L. Sayers writes:
    [T]he free will of a genuinely created character has a certain reality, which the writer will defy at his peril. It does sometimes happen that the plot requires from its characters certain behavior, which, when it comes to the point, no ingenuity on the author's part can force them into, except at the cost of destroying them.
    • Elsewhere, Sayers notes that this was why Harriet Vane did not fall into Lord Peter Wimsey's arms at the end of Strong Poison, but rather took several more books to agree to marry him.
  • 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.
  • Peter Straub said as much about Dick Dart in his novel The Hellfire Club, that in the very chapter he introduced Dart, he took over the novel, completely changing the plot and the tone.
  • 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.
  • Jo Walton has said that she's tried writing a sequel to Among Others, and that she has a pretty good idea what Mori does next; but that after the traumatic events she's already lived through, Mori seems to be deliberately steering clear of anything that might turn into an Adventure, which means there's nothing to write a novel about.
  • 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.


  • In The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer apologizes for having to record The Miller's Tale. This 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.
  • 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.
  • How NOT to Write a Novel advises against using this trope as an excuse ("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.
  • In his introduction to A Study in Scarlet, Arthur Conan Doyle assures readers that he does not share Sherlock Holmes's opinion of two previous fictional detectives, Edgar Allen Poe's C. Auguste Dupin and Emile Gaboriau's Monsieur Lecoq. Doyle says he's a fan of those characters, and admits he owes their authors a great debt of inspiration. In contrast, Holmes has only grudging respect for Dupin, and he outright calls Lecoq "a miserable bungler".

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Norman Lear was in tears when he told Jean Stapleton that they were going to kill off Edith for Archie Bunker's Place. When she tried to console Lear by reminding him that Edith wasn't a real person, he said "she is to me."

  • This post (and its comments) from the Livejournal community bad_rpers_suck discusses the thin line between roleplayers who feel that their character has taken on a "life" of its own... and people who go full Daydream Believer, seriously believing their characters are fully real and interfering with their life.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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."
  • The infamous "Backstory of Doom" of Old Man Henderson. Henderson's player insisted that he did not create it, it already existed. It just needed him to write it down. The fact that part of it was written in a language the player didn't even speak is pretty strong evidence for his claims.

  • A minor example: Lin-Manuel Miranda once complained that he had to go learn French because "Lafayette wants to rap in French. Dammit, Lafayette."

    Video Games 

  • 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.
    Jeph: God damn it, Emily, I keep trying to write comics that do not feature you and you keep stealing the scene.
  • 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. While this is generally humorous, he has also noted one occasion when a character arc moved in a direction he hadn't expected, simply because that was what was right for the characters.
  • Parodied in Terror Island, where the writers claim that their comics (or as they prefer to call them, theorems) are logically derived from universal axioms and they have no control over their content. They also can't recommend any other authors use this method, because you'll just end up creating a comic identical to Terror Island.
  • 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 stated in-universe. The author created the characters with their personalities, and he lets those personalities run the show, allowing the story to develop on its 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 Christine Weston Chandler really does believe that the characters she uses exist in some sort of alternate reality. She has apparently even "spoken" to some of them in real life. Being forced to kill off a character was what led to her final Creator Breakdown when she stopped making comics.
  • 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.
  • In the sixth print collection of Dumbing of Age, David Willis mentions that Carla effectively wrested control of the plotline involving Ruth's depression from him. Once she knew how bad things had gotten, he couldn't think of any in-character response besides her blowing up the secret.

    Web Videos 
  • Matthew Mercer, the Dungeon Master of Critical Role has stated repeatedly that he does not enjoy doing things like killing a player's character, but he won't pull his punches to prevent player deaths either. Both Mollymauk's death in Campaign 2 and Laudna's death in Campaign 3 genuinely upset him (Molly's especially, since his is the only player death thus far that couldn't be reversed), but they both died to extremely dangerous villains who had no narrative reasons to spare them, so Matt simply acted in accordance with what those characters would have done in that situation.
  • Folding Ideas - discussed and deconstructed in the video "The "Thermian Argument". The example he gives is the question "what kills a vampire?" There's no right answer, because vampires are fictional. Therefore whatever kills a vampire in a work of fiction is whatever the author decides kills a vampire. Dan Olson rejects the premise that authors are not in control of their stories, and any possibly offensive content in their work (particularly sexual violence) is what they have consciously chosen to include.
  • As well as having plenty of In-Universe examples, Jill Bearup has noted that she sometimes experienced this herself when writing the Fantasy Heroine series. The most notable example was at the end of Part 3, when she realised Caroline would behave so differently from how she'd initially thought as to necessitate a whole rewrite of Part 4.

    Western Animation 
  • 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...?"
  • Duck Amuck begins with Daffy Duck in full Musketeers garb jumping into action. Director Chuck Jones and writer Michael Maltese had no idea what to do after that, so they pull the scenery away and substitute it with a barnyard scenario, then an Arctic scene, then a Hawaiian Island. Daffy adapts to each of these, and it's only the first two minutes of the cartoon.