Friday, October 18, 2013

Detour Takes Me Closer to the Starting Point

Digging through the bowels of my hard drive, I came across the first chapter of the book I haven't quite started.

Let me explain.

This WIP (work in progress) has its roots in something that came to me about a year and a half ago. And at the time, I didn't just file the idea away. I actually started it, then got sidetracked because of our move from the island back to the mainland.

I didn't remember what I had written, and when I found it this week I was pleasantly surprised. There is some really good stuff in those two chapters. And I remember where I was going. But I'm not going there anymore. The story is so different now, what I'm envisioning now, than I'm not sure much of it is even usable. The original story doesn't bear much resemblance to to what I'm now planning. A couple of little things, a sassy computer but not much else.

Once I post this I'll begin plotting the book. Obviously, then, I belong to that group of writers who believe in having a plot in hand when I start the actual writing, as opposed to those who create characters, then plunge them into a situation and watch as they thrash around, writing down what they see. That may seems haphazard to me, but it works for successful writers like Stephen King and Anne Lamott.

I don't have the confidence to just jump in that way. If I'm planning a road trip from, say, from my home here in Louisiana to Seattle, I want to make sure I know where Seattle is, and something about the country between here and there. That doesn't mean I'm a slave to the road map any more than I am to the plot. Because the character-driven writers are correct – if you've created characters who are true to themselves, then they'll jump out and surprise you, they'll resist doing things just because the author wants them to. You either listen or you write a crappy book.

I usually end up revising the plot often, as the story progresses. It takes turns I didn't expect, characters do things I hadn't planned, sometimes characters reveal themselves to be very different people than I'd imagined. When I started Scurvy Dogs! I thought one character was a sort of comical background figure. Two thirds of the way through he shouldered me out of the way and revealed himself to be one of the main villains. And a good thing he did, because it makes the story way more interesting than I had planned.

Just because you're planning to drive from Louisiana to Seattle doesn't mean you're going to take the straightest path. You might end up zig zagging across the map to various scenic detours. You might decide Seattle is completely off the itinerary and end up in Los Angeles or even Fort Lauderdale.

And then, of course, you'll change everything again in the later drafts.

So the plot is a framework to make me feel safe setting out, I guess. But by the time the trip is over, that map will be covered with erasures and ink blots and coffee stains. Because no matter where you think you're going, you really don't know until you get there.

What a ride!

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