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I don’t know why I’ve written that…

By On Sep 24 2010, 1:13 pm

I’ve always thought I wrote in an unusual way. You see, unlike some other writers I know, I don’t have a strict plan for every bit of the novel I’m working on. I have a setting, and a vague story arc, but primarily I have characters and they’re what drive my work. I want to explore with them, and if that takes the story off down unexpected lines, so be it – I can always go back and amend the earlier bits of the tale to fit the new ideas. So long as we reach a satisfactory conclusion, I’m happy.

What I also find is that I’ll write something or somebody – or a little random event – into a story with no idea about what I’ll do with them/it or why they’re/it’s significant. I just know they have to be there. Now, I thought that made be a bit odd (no comments, please about how odd people already think I am). I was delighted to find that I’m not alone!

I was at the regular lunch held by the local chapter of the Romantic Novelists’ Association on Monday. They’re a lovely bunch, published and wannabe-published, romance writers, saga writers, crime writers, all of them delightful and full of wisdom. We fell to discussing how we construct stories and what our editors told us. We had people who struggled with just the end of novels, ones who were being told to put more romance into their stories, or who were fighting over proposed titles for their next books. Inevitably there were as many experiences and opinions around the table as there were people.

Imagine my delight to find that at least two other writers found they included things as their stories developed, for no other reason than they ‘knew they had to be there’. One lady said she’d felt compelled to intoroduce a little white dog into the novel she was writing, even though it seemed nothing other than window dressing. Only at the end, when her heroine was in trouble, did the dog’s role become clear. He was there to fetch help – case solved!

I’ve had the same thing happen. A picture on a desk, white lilies on a grave, a bystander in a scene (one with a crush on another character) were all written in before I had any idea what to do with them. But each proved absolutely crucial to the denouement of the stories they were in. I’m a great believer in the workings of the subconscious mind, so maybe some part of my brain had got all the details worked out and all the jigsaw pieces in place while I was still fiddling around trying to work out what the outline represented and what picture was on the box…

Comments

8 Responses to “I don’t know why I’ve written that…”

  1. Erastes says:

    hear hear! I work just like that most of the time. I have a vague idea “kind of a 1840’s Vertigo in Norfolk” then I introduce characters who usually introduce themselves, and then… stuff happens!

    I think it’s why I’m struggling with “I Knew Him” at the minute, because nothing much is happening and I don’t know whether I’m putting it off because it will all get a bit complicated, or whether nothing NEEDS to happen right now. I generally (like you) trust my gut, and so far it’s worked out, but its more ulcer inducing (or would be if ulcers were actually caused by stress now). I can’t map out my books rigidly, because then the story is told and I just want someone else to type it out.

  2. Erastes

    See – I knew I liked the cut of your jib.

    I incline to the ‘leave it alone for a while’ school when dealing with a WIP where nothing much is happening. Let the subconscious mind work on it for a while.

    Couldn’t agree more with the last sentence. The story I found hardest to write was the one I had mapped out in my mind. No surprises left…

    Charlie

  3. Yes, exactly! It’s all about listening to your muse, isn’t it? I’ve also added in details that I didn’t know the significance of, but they’ve helped me right when I needed them.

    Knowing exactly where something was going would stifle me. I have a rough idea, but the details fill themselves in as I go along. I’m convinced it’s the best way to write, although maybe it’s just the only way for people like us, who enjoy surprises and setting out on journeys without maps… No doubt there’s another school of writers who would be too terrified to start if they didn’t know the content of every scene.

    Jo

  4. I always start with a plot plan these days, because that helps eliminate the flailing about I used to do in the first five chapters when I didn’t have the faintest idea what I was doing. However, things still happen that I wasn’t expecting, and I then change the plan to accommodate them. And they do tend to be the things that make the most sense in the end. I’m a great believer in the power of inspiration/the subconscious to take all the loose ends and weave them back into the story as if they’d been meant to be there from the first.

  5. Alex

    Your message seems to have disappeared, as has Jo’s, and my reply to Erastes. :(

    We all have to write as works best for us, but it’s nice to know that you too like to let your brain play with things and make the inspiration drive the plan rather than vice versa!

    Charlie

  6. Now they’ve reappeared again. goes for a lie down

  7. Lee Rowan says:

    That happens to me sometimes, too—most recently a dog showing up in Home is the Sailor to act as an early-warning system for a character anxious about being caught canoodling on his father’s estate, but the story (and the characters) really needed a love scene. I didn’t realize why I’d sent the dog along until the character’s lover said, “won’t the dog bark if someone approaches?” Aha! GOOD doggie!

    I only had a detailed timeline in Ransom, because it had three sets of events that all had to come together at the same time. Otherwise, my writing process is similar to what you’re doing—a story ark, put the characters down and give them a little poke to get ‘em moving.

    BTW, it’s great to hear that the current Lessions book is NOT going to be the last!

  8. I’d have had to make a flow chart if I’d have attempted Ransom. Another project I have in mind is stalled because I need to plan it our carefully from here on in and it goes against the grain!)

    Yes, book eight awaiting edits and book nine sort of taking form in my WIP file. Thank you for being so such a support!

    Charlie

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