Must Your Characters be Predictable?

Have you ever read a book and noticed that a certain character acted differently than you would have expected? Did it throw you out of the story?

While most of us follow a somewhat predictable path in regards to our habits and response to repetitive situations, life events have the power to alter our reaction.

When it comes to fictional characters, I always defer to real life. Have you, or anyone you know well reacted differently to a situation than you would have thought? I am certain you can think of many instances.

Personally, two weeks ago, I took off last minute to see my sister who lives four and half hours away by car. I took the train adding about two hours to the journey with layovers, et cetera. But this isn’t something my husband or she ever saw coming. I’m usually a bit of a planner. I don’t typically travel alone. These are just two aspects of my personality that don’t “allow” for me to just drop everything and go.

So, must characters in our books be any different? Simply answered, they should mirror real life. Your characters should do crazy, and spontaneous things, but here’s the hinge
point—make sure there’s a reason for it. Don’t have it come so far from left-field that it jerks your reader from your story.

Referring back to my impulsive getaway, I had mentioned for weeks prior that I missed my sister and that I wanted to go there. When I had an extra day off work, well, it all came together...but my family was still surprised.

Like life, maybe we won’t always win when it comes to having our characters divert their path, but if done properly, the attentive reader will relate and understand.  And, after all, no one is the same person their entire life.

Some things to watch for:
1) Does the diversion build your character’s personality?
2) Is it for the purpose of growth?
3) Does the character’s reaction marry naturally with the context of the book/storyline?
4) Does it move the plot along?
5) Have you planted contributing factors so that your reader appreciates why your character made a different decision or reaction “out of character?”
6) Is your character going through a trying time? For example, maybe they’re typically mild but undergoing a loss and they snap a bit at the people around them. Possibly your strong heroine witnesses romantic couples all around here and finds herself saying yes to going on a date with someone she had rejected prior.

These are just a few points.  There are a lot of ‘rules’ when it comes to writing but really the majority are simply guidelines. Write like real life and you’ll win your reader.


  1. I feel there must be a logical consistency with a character. It is not their actions that determine this, however, but their core values and the motives that then result. That is where our real consistency as people lies. So people can appear to act out of character, but they are acceptable to the reader as long as their motives, their driving force, or their values remain consistent with how we've know them.

    1. Good point. Not only does the story and circumstances lead them to take what seems to be unpredictable action, but their motive should be cleared up by the result. Thank you for including this in your comment.


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