Author Sandra Scoppettone had an experience writing the other day that I can certainly sympathize with:
I had my protagonist searching a
hotel room for clues to the missing man. She opened a wardrobe and the
body of a naked woman fell out.
I didn’t plan this at all. It
happened. I have no idea who she is or what she has to do with the
missing man case. The woman falling out of the wardrobe was the way I
ended chapter two.
I’m 4 pages into chapter 4 and I still don’t
know anything about her. The police have arrived now. Don’t have any
idea where this is going to go.
Yes, it’s a bit scary not to
know, but it’s also what makes writing without an outline fun. Maybe
tomorrow I’ll find out who she is.
I write with an outline, but this kind of thing still happens to me all the time. Well, it does when I’m writing books, not in television, where the outline is, to use a cliche, set in stone after it has been approved by the studio and network and distributed to key department heads for production purposes. But I digress..
I refer to my novel outlines as "living outlines," I keep revising them as I write to take into account these little surprises along the way or new ideas that occur to me. I finish my outline around the same time I finish my books.
The most troublesome, unexpected change I had to deal with was in my book MY GUN HAS BULLETS. I had a character, Eddie Planet, who was supposed to die very early on. But I fell in love with Eddie, and enjoyed writing him so much, that I kept putting off his death, until I finally accepted the fact that I couldn’t kill him. I was stuck with him for the whole book. Well, that threw my entire plot into disarray. It screwed up every plot turn. I spent the whole book trying to solve plot problems on-the-go. But I think it was a much better book because I kept Eddie alive… and, in fact, I liked him so much, he became the central character in the sequel, BEYOND THE BEYOND.
I think it’s those surprise characters and unforeseen twists that make writing so exciting. No matter how well you plot a story, the book always seems (to use another cliche) take on a life of its own. Or, to use Sandra’s example:
The Surprise Character. I know who she is now. She was
identified by the detective’s client. This happened yesterday. I was
shocked to learn who she was. I ended chapter 5 with this revelation.
morning I woke early and before I went back to sleep I kept writing
opening lines of chapter 6 in my head. But I didn’t use any of them
when I went to work this morning.
Since chapter 5 ended with a
name I had to open chapter 6 with more information about who this
victim was. In learning this I’ve set myself a lot of new problems. I
still don’t know why she was found where she was or why she was
murdered. Needless to say, I don’t know who killed her…
…So what? That’s part of writing a novel. Any novel. Not only a mystery.
I think all good novels are mysteries to the author until they’re
Speaking of which, mine won’t be if I don’t spend less time this blog and more on my manuscript! I’m outta here. Enough procrastinating…