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How the story grows

While trying to promote my recently published book, Uncommon Counsel, I am also busy planning for the next one. As I've written about earlier in this blog, I participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) yearly. Each November I try to write 50,000 words of new fiction, a reasonable start at a first draft of a novel. The planning starts about six months before, slowly figuring out what my story is, who my characters are, and how I'm going to write it. This year is no different.

Last week I had a major realization about some of my characters. They perceive the universe in a substantially different way from the rest of us, and that influences everything about them. I may not explicitly reference any of this in the text of the novel, but it will profoundly shape these characters. I thought that was a huge development.

Then today I had another big development. Maybe not as fundamental as last weeks, but instead something that will doubtless come up in the text, shaping the whole story, adding characters and subplots, and making the whole tale more interesting. This new feature, assuming it survives exploration and development, will undo some of my earlier planning. It completely alters the story arc, while preserving the underlying premise of the novel. Some writers might be upset by this (or at least some non-writers might expect us to be upset), but I'm thrilled! I will happily throw out pages of notes and hours of work to pursue this new twist, assuming it pans out. There's still a risk it might not. My notes are full of question marks (see the attached photo!): "What about this?" "How will that work out?" "Does it always work out like so, or is this time somehow special?"

I feel good about it, though. The two pages of notes I wrote before going to a meeting felt important. When I'm done writing this, I'll be exploring more of it. I suspect I haven't even begun to understand the ways this will change the story. I have three more months before I start writing - both plenty of time to develop things and nowhere near enough time to get everything planned. That's just how I like it.

Every year I get surprises while I'm writing.

Some character will do something I didn't anticipate, or a complication will develop that I didn't see coming. And then I'll just have to write my way through it. Because 50,000 words in 30 days doesn't give you time to stop and plan. As a writer, I'll be just like my characters: thrown into the fray and expected to just deal with it while trying to survive. And that's how I produce believable characters. A character too well planned does things no real person would ever do. But if I can hold their mind set and react as they would to the situation, I can keep the story going in a consistent way.

So I love how these recent developments will change things, making the story richer and more complex. But I won't understand all the ramifications until November. I don't want to understand them. I need to be caught unawares, just as my characters are. Knowing my characters' backstory is great; they know that, too, after all. Knowing the nature of the universe is similarly great. Knowing how they think, what motivates them, how they react -- that's the meat of it all. But what twists and turns will come? I need to be surprised as much as my characters, as much as my readers.

And so it goes....


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