Monday, July 9, 2012

Where'd that come from?

My last post talked about the planning process. And I do believe I write best with a plan. But I also know I shouldn't force myself to stick to it. Some of the best things come as a surprise. And it always surprises me that I'm surprised by myself.

The first manuscript I completed was meticulously planned (at least by my standards). I had a full chapter by chapter outline and was sure that it had everything covered. As I started writing I added a chapter within the first five. I didn't plan it. I just finished one chapter and before I started the next one on the outline I wrote a different chapter, one in between the two I had planned. And after writing it, it was obvious that the new chapter was necessary. Not for the logistical details - there wasn't any necessary action. But it revealed more information about the characters. Information that was necessary to make the connection to the following chapter. Otherwise it would have been going from A to C. The surprise chapter was the necessary B. Obvious after the fact.

Wen I finished the book, I realized that it was missing some more chapters. Again, it wasn't the action. Everything that needed to happen was already in there. But only upon reading the whole thing did it become clear that the flow wasn't correct. There was a stretch where the pace had settled into a rhythm that got boring. There needed to be something to change things up and force the reader to pay attention. Again, it was obvious when you read the whole thing, even though the outline never revealed it. So the plan was revised and the work improved.

Surprises also come in the middle of writing, often in dialogue. I have my chapter outline to follow and I normally have a conversation worked out in my head before writing it. I know where it's supposed to go, even if I don't have the words chosen. But once I start typing, I try to choose the words that the character would use. In doing that, the character often ends up leading the conversation in a different direction than I intended. It always surprises me when my characters don't do what I tell them to do.

But invariably this is the way to go - follow your characters, don't force them to follow you. When you try to force it you lose their voice. And ultimately you will lose the reader. I've had to revise my plan for several chapters based on a conversation that went sideways. It's frustrating, but always seems to end up an improvement.

So I will continue to plan my books. And I will continue to revise that plan as things change. For the surprises are often the best part of the writing process. We learn things we didn't know we knew. We get the joy of discovery right along with the joy of creation. The joy of reading and writing. The best of both worlds.

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