Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The Curious Case of Chapter 36 (An IWSG Post)

It's the first Wednesday of the month, which means it's time for another action-packed installment of the Insecure Writer's Support Group...

(I'm assuming if you're here, you're already well-versed in the IWSG, but if you're interested in additional information or just looking for a complete list of participants, please click on the above link.)

This month's awesome co-hosts are: Renee Scattergood, Sadira Stone, Jacqui Murray, Tamara Narayan, and LG Keltner.

This month's (optional) question asks, "Has your writing ever taken you by surprise? For example, a positive or belated response to a submission you'd forgotten about, or an ending you never saw coming?"

I think it's been well established on this blog that I have some serious plotter qualities. If you were to see my office, you'd think I was single handedly keeping the Post-it Note industry alive because they're all over the walls (and occasionally the trim and doors and the floors and pretty much anything else that'll hold still long enough) creating a visual representation of the story I'm trying to tell.

I like having that plan. I like having that road map. It's helpful to be able to see that if my characters do A, that'll lead to B, which leads to C, and so on and so forth. I think it makes my writing life slightly simpler.

However, even with all the plotting and planning, there are still things I don't know will happen in the book, and they occasionally surprise the ever-living hell out of me when they come to light. In the third book of my fantasy series, for example, there's a character I knew was doing to die. I've known this death has been coming since the first book, but I didn't know how it would happen. Last November, I discovered how it would happen (may sound like an odd word choice, but it really was a discovery) and I was pretty devastated by it. (Not, you know, devastated enough to, you know, not kill that character in that way because it really is pretty perfect for the story, but still...I feel bad.)

I am truly awful to my characters.

Which is why I shouldn't be surprised when, every now and then, my characters look at my carefully laid-out storyboards, at all my hard work, and say, "Hey, that's a nice story map you got there. It'd be a shame if someone were to come along and...mess it up."

And then they blow that storyboard to smithereens.



The last scene in Chapter 36 of Second Nature is a prime example. I knew down to the last period how that scene was supposed to go. I had written it in a notebook—exactly the way I wanted it to play out—and all I had to do was type it into the main manuscript file-thing. Easy, right?

Wrong.

It all started with one little change to a line of dialogue. It just came out as I was typing, and there it was, on the monitor. No big deal, so I shrugged and carried on. Soon, another line of dialogue changed, then another and another. And a few more, and before I knew it, I was caught in some kind of story avalanche that just swept me away.

By the time I reached the end of that scene and typed that final period, I literally sat back in my desk chair and said...



But I knew it was right. Even though I hadn't planned on it, even though it wasn't on a storyboard, I knew that's what had to happen. Sure, that change meant I had to go back and rewrite not-insignificant chunks of the rest of the book, and quite a few chapters in Effigy, too, but it was the right thing to do for the series. The series, I believe, is stronger for it.

I have a love/hate relationship with those moments where the characters take over the asylum or whatever. I hate them because look at my pretty, pretty storyboards and all the work I did to create them! But I love those moments because they almost always lead me to a better story.

And that's what it's all about.

(I apologize if you now have the Hokey Pokey stuck in your head.)

Your turn. Has your writing ever taken you by surprise?

45 comments:

  1. Now I have a visual in my mind of characters running around, laughing maniacally as they tear Post-Its off walls and fling them around like confetti. (I need more coffee. Or less.)

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    1. See, that's exactly what it's like sometimes. Which is what I get, I suppose, for creating characters with little to no respect for authority.

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  2. Whereas I now picture your characters as the Vercotti brothers (Michael Palin & Terry Jones). Ooh, I'm going to enjoy your novels on an extra level now...

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    1. I didn't get that reference, so I had to Google it (I know. I'm ashamed of myself, too...), but yeah. They are totally the Vercotti brothers.

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    2. In your defense, I didn't mention Monty Python or the army base they're known for offering protection to...

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  3. Someone blows your PostIt notes to heck, you'll panic.
    I had a very minor character decide he wanted a bigger role and it worked.

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    1. I don't tend to panic, but I'm certainly unimpressed. At least until I know the detour is headed somewhere good.

      One of my minor characters in Second Nature decided he wanted a bigger role, too. He was supposed to die, but now he has a part in Book Three and his own spin-off.

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  4. See, character insisting on going their own way is why I don't plot. =P

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    1. Sometimes I wonder why I bother plotting anything, but I know the sad truth. When I don't plot, I get even less done than I do now.

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  5. That's my big surprise, too--characters. When I'm on a roll, they often get away from me!

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    1. My significant other doesn't understand how that can happen, what with me being the author and all, but it happens all the time.

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  6. I don't use Post-it Notes. But I like the idea of using them :)

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    1. I find them really useful. Plus, depending on how the story plays out, they can be pretty to look at. Like, really weird wall art.

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  7. I think if I tried to make a story board, Jordan wouldn't try and destroy it. He'd just laugh at it and walk away. I *did* make an outline for my current chapter...maybe that's why I haven't been working on it. Hmm.
    Yeah, my characters control everything.

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    1. Yeah, my characters do the laughing and walking away thing, too. I keep pointing at the wall saying, "But storyboard!" and they're all, "Yeah. We're not doing that."

      But I love them anyway.

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  8. Whooboy! Am I familiar with things going off course and having to do major rewrites because of it. Glad the story is stronger for it, though. :)

    I've tried Post-it notes before. It usually ends up with them all over the floor because my kids are all "Mama, what's this?" and then proceed to pluck my plans from teh wall. As a result, I've gone through great lengths to find a digital equivalent.

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    1. I don't know if you're still searching for a digital equivalent, or if you've found one you like, but my digital equivalent is Trello. I use it when I travel. I've been pretty happy with it thus far.

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  9. The power of words. Even just one sentence. I assume it went off course in a really good way?

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    1. Yes, it did. A very good way, as it turned out.

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  10. Love those moments when the characters just take off and do their own thing. I know things are going well when they do that, even if I have to pick up the pieces later.

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    1. You're right—it is a good sign that things are going well. Sure, I may be annoyed in the moment because I have to go back rework all the plans (again), but when I have a better story because of it, I get over it pretty quickly.

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  11. I don't know, maybe it's because I live somewhere in between the two extremes, but I never have those moments.

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    1. There's no one right way to be a writer. And if there was, I can't imagine it would be the way I do it. :)

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  12. Often the very best writing I do seems to come out of left field and wasn't in my original plan at all. I'm always surprised that I can sneak up on my own brain like that. @samanthabwriter from
    Balancing Act

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    1. Me too! My significant other doesn't understand how that happens, either. He's always, "But you're the author. Aren't you in charge?"

      And then I laugh my you-know-what off.

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  13. It doesn't take much to set your story onto a different trajectory. Alas, I've found that out a few times.

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    1. It really doesn't. Just one line of dialogue can change everything.

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  14. I really don't think my writing has ever taken me by surprise. It always just happens the way I imagine it in my brain. I don't know what this says about my writing style...

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    1. The only thing this says about your writing style is that it's different than mine. Like I said to Andrew, there's no one right way to be a writer.

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  15. As it's back to school time, things like Post It notes are on sale at places like Target and Staples. Like right now. You probably already know this, but just in case you need to stock up...

    Did chapter 36 blow up before or after you released Effigy?

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  16. I am always surprised when the story just writes itself the way I planned it while washing my hair.

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    1. I'm surprised when that happens to me, too, because by the time I finish with my hair, I've usually forgotten what it was I wanted to write. :)

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  17. One reason why I like to write on paper and type it up is because I always make it better, but I never change it that much. lol

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    1. I find that, too. That I always end up changing what I wrote by hand. It's not always as dramatic a change as chapter 36 was, but very few handwritten scenes end up the way they were originally written.

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  18. Hey, there are lots of back to school sales so you can pick up more Post its for cheap. Super sticky so they don't fall off the wall.

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    1. I wonder if the super sticky Post-Its will keep my characters from changing the story.

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  19. Yes, I love it when that happens! By the way, your covers are gorgeous. Love them.

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  20. I can relate to your Post-it Note fetish. When I'm plotting, I use them too and they get everywhere!!! I even use colour coded ones! I do enjoy it when the characters take over.

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  21. Post it notes come in so useful, don't they. I love hearing about your writing process. The details make me feel like I'm not alone in the whole chaos of it all.

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  22. I'm very much a plotter, too, and yeah, there are definitely still moments where my characters will surprise me. You're right--the story is usually much better off for it. (No matter how annoying it is to deal with, at the time...LOL.)

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  23. Dialogue is dangerous for me as well. It tends to come out fast and furious and then all bets are off.

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  24. I love having a plan, but no matter how detailed it is, some character in some way is going to mess with it in a way I can't see beforehand which will probably turn out for the best in the end.

    Happy writing :)

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  25. The thwarting of a plotter! Now there's a whole story to explore, and I think it might have a Twilight Zone twist to it.

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  26. Yes, my writing often takes me a few places I didn't expect or plan to go. I'm happier when my plotting is loose, and my writing is wild. But then, revision is horrible, but oh well. Plotting too much puts me in the deep freeze of writing blocks.

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