I know, from talking to other writers, that I’m not the only one who experiences this.
Here’s the deal: I think of my characters as having a separate identity from me. They aren’t just my creations, they have a will of their own.
I know it sounds crazy, but I don’t think I’ve developed schizophrenia or Multiple Personality Disorder.
It’s a very functional perspective, though. If I feel like I can’t get a handle on a character I “ask” the other characters to fill me in. If a character is “misbehaving” while I’m writing, I use the ol’ carrot and stick approach.
For instance: While I was writing The Sunshine Line my narrator’s love-interest was not talking enough. Hardly any dialog, letting the other characters dominate the conversations, even the scenes. So I said to her, “Kristy, if you step up, I’ll let you test for the next belt in karate… but if you don’t I won’t give you any credit for figuring out the solution to the main mystery of the story.” And it worked. So Kristy got her black belt and proper credit when the time came.
Another thing that happens when I write is my characters will introduce things that I am not expecting… and they are almost all great ideas. In the end of the second chapter of The Sunshine Line, my narrator sleepily mentions that someone named Jenna owed him a favor. This was not in the outline at all. This was the first time I’d heard about Jenna. After I wrote that I thought “Well! I guess that could come in handy.” And several chapter later, sure enough, Jenna returns the favor.
As I said, a very functional way to approach writing. I love the process of preparing for a novel, but writing it is even more fun. Sure, there’s some anxiety when I outline something to the effect of “The hermit is convinced for some reason,” but the deep satisfaction and joy of discovery that happens when I get there and it all just comes out more than makes up for it. I didn’t even know the hermit’s name, but as I wrote he became a fascinating character with a great story to tell.
So call me crazy if you will, but remember that my stories would be dryer — and probably would contain more plot-holes — without that lunacy.