On Writing: Surprises

Today’s word count: 1214 words

NANTUCKET word count to date: 33,959

In keeping with my intention to make writing more of a priority, I sat down to write far earlier than I normally do. I finished before dinner, in fact. I started by deleting a couple of lines from the end of yesterday’s writing, and then plunging in from there.

A surprise showed up today, in the form of a new character. I’m not sure at all how he fits into the story, but he just showed up and he made sense where he showed up. As to how he might come into the story later, though, I’m not sure at all. I figured I might as well write him in and see where he takes me.

This is part of the reason why I like writing without a concrete outline. It’s kind of like reading a novel: I continue writing because I want to see what happens. With this book, because it’s a mystery, I kind of know what happens, in that I know who the murderer is, and I know why the murder was committed. But other than that, I don’t know what happens between here and there. I also don’t know how the paranormal comes into play in the story, which is kind of scary (for me as a writer, I mean) – since one of my main characters is all about the paranormal.

Actually, this whole not-knowing thing can be rather challenging. When I stopped working on this novel last November, at the end of NaNoWriMo, I had just written a scene that involved another murder. This second murder was a total surprise to me. I think this second murder is connected to the story. And if I was reading this novel rather than writing it, I’d assume it was the same murderer. The signs are all there. But the truth is, I don’t know. I don’t even know why it happened.

But I guess if it keeps me writing, just so I can find out for myself what happened, then I’m all for it.

For those of you who write, do you use an outline? A semi-outline? Or do you wing it, and go with the flow?  I’ve always liked Stephen King’s concept of story writing as simply digging out a fossil that’s already there – the idea that the story already exists, more or less fully formed, and the writer’s only job is to simply to use the tools at hand to dig it out of the ground.

7 thoughts on “On Writing: Surprises

  1. Molly

    Oh – this is so much fun to read about your writing process!

    One of the books that I have to read for class is called the Story behind the Story. It is a collection of about 26 short stories – and after each short story the author divulges the inspiration, or the story behind that short story. I am only about half way through the book and I cannot tell you how many of the authors have mentioned this exact same phenomena: they are equally surprised by characters and plot twists as the story tends to write itself.

    I am not sure that I will ever get to that point in my own writing, but I sure love to hear others’ experiences!

    Molly’s last blog post..TSS – Comments about Comments

  2. Belle Post author

    Molly, I will definitely have to get that book! I love to read about the writing process, too, and it helps a little in terms of dealing with all these surprises, that coming to a place of faith where you know everything that comes through is good, that it will all work out, and for the best of the story. I’m really glad you’re taking this course – I know that every time you write about it (I’m hoping you’ll have time to blog about it) I get to experience it vicariously.

  3. Meghan

    I don’t write anymore, but when I did I never knew what was going to happen. My characters always had minds of their own. Planning more always seemed to kill a little of the creative impulse for me. Unfortunately I never managed to see stories through to their conclusion, I’m one of those people that gets obsessed with editing rather than writing. I have finished a few but I had far more half-written stories hanging around on my hard drive!

    Meghan’s last blog post..Review: The Host, Stephenie Meyer

  4. Margot

    I love your surprise experience. It seems that my favorite authors seem to operate under the same practice. The writing I do is non-fiction and I do have a somewhat vague outline. But as to storytelling – my oldest granddaughter and I have a game we play where one of us starts a story and then after a bit the other person continues and then we go back and forth until it feels right to say The End. We’ve been doing this for about 5 years. She is now 10. Our stories are getting better and so much fun to do. She has developed into a very good writer and is currently working on a chapter book. When Q and I do verbally is definitely the surprise style you are using. I find it not only fun, but very creative. Keep going.

    Margot’s last blog post..Book Review: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

  5. Memory

    I generally write from a rough outline in my head. I know basically what’s going to happen, but I’m fuzzy on some of the specifics. Once I’ve finished the first draft and/or figured out just how certain things need to go down, I like to go back and a very informal outline that consists of a brief paragraph describing each scene. I find that this helps me clarify certain ideas about the story without getting too a + b = c about it. I’ve got a framework built, but there’s still room for surprises.

    Memory’s last blog post..The Sunday Salon: Blog Names

  6. Dorte H

    Usually, I come up with a plot and try to make a plan in c 10 sections/chapters. Not detailed, just short notes for what is going to happen, and of course I change a lot while I move along. Last time I wrote a manuscript I didn´t plan it properly, and that was clearly a mistake. It has been so difficult for me to try to repair my own sloppy work afterwards.

    Dorte H’s last blog post..Johan Theorin, Skumringstimen (2008)

  7. Belle Post author

    Meghan, it’s been so much fun now that I’m writing regularly. I also have a whole closet full of starts – I’m great with the story ideas. Finishing has always been the challenge for me. But now that I’ve set myself a daily writing goal, finishing doesn’t feel like such a challenge anymore.

    Margot, your game with your granddaughter sounds like such fun. My youngest is six, and I think he’d love playing this game. It sounds very much like you’ve really helped your granddaughter’s to hone her storytelling abilities.

    Memory, I think that’s it exactly – having a framework that’s flexible enough to let in the surprises. I just finished writing the scene involving this new character, and I like him a lot. He’s decent guy, has a bit of mystery, and the two characters he’s been introduced to have decided they like him.

    Dorte, that’s probably my biggest fear – that I’ll write and write and end up with lots of tangents that I’ll have to deal with during revision. This project will be my test case; I’d like to see if going with the flow will really result in all the loose ends being tied up or not.


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