You’ve got a book to write. A story to tell. There’s something you want to say or an event or series of events you want to share. You’ve got a plot in your mind and you’ve got a really good idea or perhaps the entire thing planned out either on paper or in your mind (or both). You are raring to go and write that story! Yay you!

But wait!

What about your characters? What do they have to say to all this? How do they feel about everything you’re putting them through. They are the ones living it, right? Or are they just puppets in your hands. Do you pull the strings and move them around the world of your building? Do you put words in their mouths? Have a script which they are reciting?

Or do you actually allow them to live? Actually allow them to experience this world you’ve created for them? Do they have a say in what they do or in what they say? How about how they react? Do you allow them that?

The most wonderful thing, I have long advocated for, is to begin with your characters when you start a story. One way is to begin with a trope or an idea, an archetype or a concept of what your protagonist is going to be. From there you can discover the character’s backstory. Discover their wound. What their goals are, their hopes and dreams and learn where those dreams came from. You develop real people who think and feel and have ideas all of their own.

Do you, their creator, allow them at least a modicum of free will?

You’ve got a story to tell, a plot you need your characters to play out, but what if they have other ideas? Do you allow them to determine the direction of their own story?

It’s a little odd to think about the characters we’ve created and developed from nothing but our own imagination as real people. We know that they’re not. But despite the fact that they came from us, like a child, they somehow grow beyond us and quite frequently will begin to think on their own.

Do you allow them that? Or do you rein them in and direct them toward where you have pre-determined they should go?

Usually, I’m happy to say, my characters behave themselves. Usually, they are content to follow the plot I’ve laid out for them. Sometimes, however, they’ll have other ideas. Sometimes, I will have to be the one to change my story and adjust to something they say or do. Sometimes they simply don’t feel that what I had planned for them is right.

As an author, this both annoys me and brings me great joy. It’s bothersome because when my characters do this I have to rework my plot to fit what the characters want to do. On the other hand, it means that they have so come to life that they’re making their own decisions, which is really incredible and wonderful.

So, think about how much autonomy you want to allow your characters—and it doesn’t have to be the same throughout the writing of your book. There may be some things you absolutely need to happen in the story and others that you’re okay changing with the will of your characters.