I’m someone who writes pretty instinctively. I’ve been telling stories since before I can remember (the family used to have to set an egg timer to get any quiet out of me), so when I’m writing, I’m rarely surprised when a character sort of pops up out of nowhere. I know the character isn’t popping out of nowhere; that character is popping out to fill a need in my story, and while I hadn’t consciously sat down and hashed out that I’d need someone to fill the need, I know that a lot of my pre-writing happens simply by letting ideas build in my subconscious while I’m doing other things.
What surprises me when I have characters pop out is that when they appear, they pull in a whole backstory with them, and the fact that I have that waiting around for me to notice is always shocking. I was getting a couple of pages of issue #2 of Girl Who Loved a Zombie written today, and I knew there were two minor characters to be introduced. I need them both to fill a very small role each to help flesh out the world and the major characters, and as I was mentioning them for the first time, I wrote the name of one of the characters and got a flood of information about her. I know what she did for a living. I know she was in love. I know she made a deliberate decision that goes very much against the norms of the world in order to be happy. I know she’s going to meet my main character, and they’re going to have a serious confrontation.
I didn’t know any of that was going to happen until I wrote it, and you know what’s amazing about that? The fact that it fills a major hole I was feeling in my story. I knew something was missing from issue #2, and I found it, all by writing down the name ‘Peg.’
Your story and its characters are always in there, folks. Sometimes, you just have to let a minor character push her way to the front and take the lead.