Characters Not Behaving Today!

My characters aren’t behaving today. Admittedly, this happens to me a lot. After all, characters live in the author’s subconscious (maybe–it’s possible that they live in an alternate universe where they frolic with other characters, as in Bruce’s fictional world). And, since I grew up in the 60s, my subconscious is not unexpectedly rebellious at its core. But not usually this bad.

And who is leading the insurrection? No surprisingly, it’s Morgan le Fay.

Morgan has become my favorite character from the Arthurian legends. It didn’t start out that way. In my first book, Bradley Schuster and the Holy Grail (which now I’ll have to go back and rewrite, since an evil Morgan is no longer acceptable), she followed the typical party line of the evil half sister trying for her own nefarious purposes to destroy Arthur’s kingdom. But that’s only because I didn’t know her well.

Getting to know her happened in Strange Bedfellows, where Morgan lives on in the 21st century because she’s learned how to jump into a host and co-occupy their brain. So she’s 1500 years old and yet still kicking. Of course, she doesn’t have a body of her own. But she still has all her memories, and much of her former abilities.

Many of my readers weren’t fond of Morgan. They thought that occupying the mind of another is an inherently evil action, and to occupy the mind of the heroine, Amy the former stripper–why that was just too much. But I loved her. I mean, you have to forgive a few minor indiscretions. She’s Morgan le Fay, for Pete’s sake!


When Morgan first made an appearance, in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Vita Merlini (c. 1150), she wasn’t very different than her predecessors in Welsh mythology. A wise woman, a healer, certainly not evil. Even as late as the romances of Chrétien de Troyes (late 12th century), Morgan is described as a giver of healing ointments, and sometimes even Arthur’s healer.  But by the time of Malory’s definitive Le Morte d’Arthur, she had completed the conversion into evil witch. One common opinion is that she was transformed by the Cistercian monks who wrote the stories in the The Vulgate Cycle (1215 to 1235).  The monks would have been prejudiced by the earlier concepts of the Welsh demigoddess Morrighan, while considering the idea of a non-religious female healer as blasphemy.

Morgan’s evil reputation stayed pretty well intact until the 20th century, which began to revive her earlier personna. She is the leading character in The Mists of Avalon (1979), where she is recast as a pagan high priestess, trying to stay true to the old religion despite the inroads of Christianity into Britain.


Morgan, the youngest of Arthur’s 3 half sisters, was sent to a nunnery to protect her from the lecherous advances of her step-father, Uther (Arthur’s dad). She escapes to spend 17 years in Faerie, where time stops so she didn’t physically age, and some more in Avalon; in both places she studies sorcery. By the time she comes to court, she appears younger and more beautiful than Guinevere. Guinevere is jealous, and gets Arthur to marry her off to the elderly King Uriens, who abuses her sexually and emotionally. When she finally escapes his clutches (by seducing his Captain of Arms who insults Uriens and kills him in a duel), she goes quietly about the business of running the kingdom and raising her son, Yvain. But when Arthur summons Yvain to Camelot so he can meet the young king (he’s 8), Guinevere talks him into appointing a regent to rule Gore on Yvain’s behalf, since Morgan can’t be trusted with such an important post. That is the last straw. Morgan sets up her little “Valley of No Return,” where she enchants any Knight of the Round Table who passes by, eventually releasing them to return to Camelot with enchanted instructions to find evidence that Guinevere is sleeping with Lancelot.

So Morgan’s not really evil, even though her actions are not beneficial to Arthur’s realm. After all, in her value system (and mine, I confess), he deserves it.


Morgan is a key character in the novel I’m working on, working title The Adventures of Sir Kay. This story takes place in Arthurian times, and so we get to see Morgan in her original body. She has enchanted and seduced Sir Kay earlier in the story, although he’s in love with her older sister Elaine (which totally pissed off my writing partner, SusanH). But Morgan and Kay have become old friends through the course of the novel.

In today’s chapter, Kay is at Morgan’s manor, which is between Camelot and the castle where Elaine lives. Kay has stopped to talk to Morgan because he’s all tied in knots trying to figure out how he’s going to win his lady love, is puzzled by a new concept that the legend of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table is going to live on for 1500 years, and wants her opinion on the Holy Grail. Today, they’re supposed to be talking about the Holy Grail.

So what does Morgan do? She professes her love for Kay!

And weeps!

Good grief. Morgan, get a grip. You’re supposed to be cold as ice, utterly self-confident, and in total command of yourself and your emotions. This is so not like you!

So I’ve paused for the nonce. I’m going to let this new direction simmer in the back of my mind for a while, see what I really think of it. Maybe Morgan will behave herself on Monday.

cam3 cropedPictures of Morgan alternate as my wallpaper. Here is the current one.



6 thoughts on “Characters Not Behaving Today!

  1. Maybe you need pictures of Elaine for your wallpaper? Only joking. The real question, it seems to me, is do you want Morgan to behave.

    And shouldn’t Morgan’s vendetta be against Guinevere? Arthur is just another lovestruck guy.

    • Morgan’s vendetta IS fundamentally against Guinevere. But lovestruck or not, if you’re the high king and still allow your wife to talk you into doing evil–we’re not talking about inconvenience here, we’re talking true evil–to your half sister because of jealousy, you don’t deserve a lot of slack. In my and Morgan’s humble opinion (and yes, mine is roughly as humble as Morgan’s). That’s like saying that Herod was really not a fault for chopping off John the Baptist’s head, he was just a doting father.

  2. Yep… Alternate realities… Dr. Campbell would be pleased.

    The way Dr. Campbell explains it in one of my passages (I may have even read this for WWG at one point too) is that writing is not unlike what we hear sculptors say about their art… that the image is already present in the wood or the stone or the mashed potatoes or whatever the medium they sculpt in. All the sculptor does is chip away at the parts of the medium that aren’t the image to free it.

    What we do as novelists is similar. The story is already “out there” and all we have to do is add words and phrases that belong to the story and ignore those that do not. My wife says that the story comes from the characters themselves… they speak to her. After all, what she is writing is their story, not hers.

    Even in the nautical fantasy I’m writing with a pre-planned plot, I have characters that are “misbehaving” as you put it. A character that I wanted to make a third wheel in a love triangle is not acting like she wants that role, even though it is important to the story I intend to write. The fallout is meant to leave the main character stripped of his friends and all alone so that he is the one who indisputably saves the day. But as with most women from when I was single, all she seems to want is “just be friends.”

    Giving a character their own head has great advantages too. One of my characters resolved a major plot hole for me. He me an opening for a subplot that will get me where I want to end up for the story. In giving my protagonist instructions on how to approach another king, he unwittingly provided me some back-story that explains how the protagonist could believably end up as King of Atlantis at the end of the story. This was something Stella and others to whom I explained my plot, had trouble with and now the problem has been resolved. It was not by me but by my character who even himself won’t know the “rest of the story” he told until the very end.

    So as much as I’m not fond of Morgan acting all un-Morganlike… let her. It is after all her story not yours. You are just bringing her into our reality from hers. Just don’t lose sight of the fact that this is ultimately Kay’s story. If Morgan is demanding her own story, you should listen to her for your next book. Nothing wrong with a story that has a plot line and character arc spanning 1500 years. You wanted to try writing from a female perspective anyway right?

    Sorry for missing the party at your place yesterday Rusty. We moved on Thursday and have been working on unpacking and making the new place livable. I was so exhausted last night that there is no way I would have been pleasant company for a party. Hope you guys had a good time.

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