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?


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?