Surprise Characters Can Be Fun

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By Ann H. Gabhart

The number one reason people read novels is because of the characters. Books need lots of action orconflict. Fabulous settings or dramatic historical events are good, but without characters to enable readers to vicariously live the story with them, you just have a travel guide, a history book or a news article. We want to love or perhaps hate the characters in the stories we read, according to the roles they play in the novel.

In the process of writing over thirty-seven books, I’ve come up with a boatload of characters. Some of those are lovable. Some aren’t. My job is to make sure my characters come to life so the reader will cheer them on, struggle when they struggle, sigh when they sigh and love when they love. Of course, on the other side of the character coin, the reader wants the villains in the piece to get their comeuppance.

I can’t just get to know my main characters. I have to know all those others who make an appearance in my stories. I have to see them in their own worlds and know where they’re going and what they might say to my main characters should they happen to meet them. And they will meet them.

Whether my characters are sweet-tempered or angry at the world, timid or bold, I want them spring to life for readers. For that to happen, they must first become real for me. So I think about them. I try to find them the perfect name. I sometimes let them write a journal entry to tell me about themselves.

I know I’m ready to start writing my story when my characters begin talking in my head. Characters need their own unique voices whether they are talking to themselves, to someone else or to the Lord.

Even though I do have a character list when I start writing a new book, I’m open to more people showing up. Sometimes a character will pop up out of nowhere to play a bigger role than I planned. That was true for Perdita Sweet, better known in her mountain community as Aunt Perdy.  In Along a Storied Trail, I knew she was going to be a crotchety old mountain woman, but not until I saw her rocking in front of her fireplace with an empty cupboard and a cat as cantankerous as she was, did I know what a gift she would be to my story.

Perdita Sweet wasn’t a planned viewpoint character, but when she got up out of her rocking chair and started talking, I embraced her as the gift character she was as she let me know in no uncertain terms that she had plenty to say in my story.

Sometimes a character I haven’t planned at all will knock on my creative door. When that happens, I’m more than ready to let them come on in and be part of my story. Granny Em was that kind of character in These Healing Hills. She added wonderful local color to my mountain story.

Writers have to be open to the creativity going on in our subconscious minds that leads to those surprises while you’re writing. Great characters can make for great stories. An unexpected character pushing his or her way into the story can be a gift and make writing surprisingly fun.

When a new character knocks on a writer’s creative door and surprises her, it can make a story better. @AnnHGabhart #ACFWBlogs #writetip #ACFWCommunity Click To Tweet


ANN H. GABHART, bestselling author of over thirty-five novels, writes stories using Kentucky history and locations. She writes about Shakers, small town life, mystery (as A.H. Gabhart), and Appalachia in her latest release, Along a Storied Trail. She enjoys country life on her Kentucky farm. For more about Ann, visit

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