First, let me preface this by saying my friends are lovable asshats. I ran out of time to think this week, so I asked them to drop blog topics for me to pick from. Two were viable. The rest made me wonder why I have so many oddballs in my life. The wonder lasted until I looked in the mirror and caught myself in an Avengers t-shirt and red scotty dog flannel pants with my hair sticking out in every direction. If I threw stones, my glass house would resemble Alderaan.
What topic did I pick? Christina B. gave me this gem:
Random acts of writing. Just when you think everything is okay, the story takes a drastic turn!
Plot shenanigans are ultra rare in my writing universe nowadays. I realized a couple years ago that it was far easier to plot my ass off before work began on a manuscript. I let it sit for a couple weeks, note any new ideas, then write like the wind. Having a solid outline doesn’t negate all surprises. I kinda wish it did. Usually these “What the hell do you mean it’s not happening this way?” moments require going back through the book to fix a plot point, or tweaking the outline to reflect the change so I don’t have to edit the damn thing in after the fact. As I write, I have a page of “Gods Damn It” notes to apply during editing round one. Sometimes these are plot hole patches, conversation changes, notes on wound locations, etc. Most often they’re reminders to put clothes on my characters because I never remember to dress them, but clothing is a huge part of self expression and needs to happen to fully flesh out my fictional friends. I did have a WTF moment recently when a character requested a latex dress. That was fun research.
With my characters—who are all far too real for my sanity’s sake—their suggested changes are never simple things. The Inbetween series is rife with changes I never saw coming. Garik in particular likes to go, “Oh, by the way, that thing you thought was this way? It’s actually this way.” If he were real, I’d punch him in the nose for each time I had to go back to fuss with minor things which were series-encompassing details. Sometimes the characters don’t get their way. I let my imagination run, give the people in my head a lot of leash to romp, but there are times I say no because the change is too much, too weird, or doesn’t make sense within the main story arc. Sorry, Garik, I don’t need a scene with you discovering organic bath balls.
Heh, I said balls.
For Sydnee’s long-overdue book, her drastic turn happened early in the game. What luck! I won’t say what it is (spoilers!) but her foot-down decision one afternoon while I wrote changed the entire book. Which was a good thing because that week I’d realized I had no clue how to end her story. Not only is Sydnee’s book her story, it’s the end of my vampire series. Her ending has to be their ending. I’ll tell you now, the vampires are going to a place I hadn’t predicted when I originally laid out the game plan going into this final story. Those kind of story-leading-the-writer moments are okay. Sometimes I can’t see the big picture and have to step aside to figure out where the characters would naturally lead the plot without me micromanaging every detail.
What if the characters can’t figure it out, either? That’s where my writing group comes in. I’ve got a couple people who’ve been on the writing path with me since day one, sentence one. Sandi and Quamaine are the reason why I kept writing, have remained a writer, and have every faith in my ability to do something meaningful in this career. They’re also in my life to call me on my shit when I send them a scene or dialog chunk giving me problems. Occasionally you just need another brain to assist. Talking things out with them, hearing what they think may be the snag or where they think the scene is heading, helps recalibrate the writing work. It may even spark a dreaded, but secretly hoped for, surprise change to the story. I do the same thing with my editing clients as necessary, and without charge, long before they send me a finished manuscript. Why? Writers cannot work in a vacuum. They need feedback at some point. I’d rather do it now than later when it may require extensive rewrites. Everyone needs a sounding board. That’s what managers at day jobs are for—a person to listen to your problems and help fix them so you provide the content you were hired to create. I am my own manager. I am a shitty manager, too. This is why I have my writing group, and I highly suggest other independent authors do the same. It gives you people to help long before paying an editor to fix the mistakes. Matter of fact, with a solid writing group, your editor may think you’re brilliant and their first pass won’t look like the manuscript is bleeding from ten-thousand paper cuts.
What about you? Do you look forward to the, “Whoa, wait. What,” moments while writing? Has a random idea sparked an entirely new direction for a story, causing you to scrap pages upon pages of work? If so, be honest and tell me how many Kleenex you went through while dumping* those pages in the circular filing cabinet.
(*Never actually toss scrapped story content. Shove it in a file to pilfer through later for bits to flesh out the rest of the story, or even start a new one.)