I find myself in a bit of a transition in my writing right now. A few months ago, my weekly writing group challenged me to write a fantasy novel. (I love you, Solitary Scribes.) When I told my agent, she said I’d have to come up with a pen name because it’s such a genre switch. I’m thinking BJ Tolkien might work. Or Tim Dekker. Or Johnny C. Jenkins.
Part of the challenge I set for myself—I really can’t blame my group for this—is to write it seat of the pants. Or, organically as Steven James calls it. So, yeah, he gets some of the blame/credit for this too.
For years, I practiced and preached using a detailed outline. I would spend weeks writing an outline before I ever typed “Chapter One.” Along with the outline would be days of detailed character development. Questionnaires, interviews with the character, histories. Physical descriptions. As much detail as I could develop. I wanted to know these characters inside and out.
When I started organic writing, all this character detail didn’t seem as important. I knew my hero’s role, kind of knew what he looked like, knew his story goal. I had an idea of his internal core values and how they would conflict over the story. I was comfortable with him and he seemed comfortable with me. I knew more of him would be revealed as the story went along, more depth, more complexity.
As the story moves along, seeds are sprouting about a romantic relationship between my hero and heroine. Seems to have a good pace, good tension. The attraction is mutual but there are issues which threaten to keep them apart. Like he’s twenty years older than her and she’s religious and he hates religion in every form.
And then—feels like there should be dramatic music here—he meets a woman he hasn’t seen in eleven years. I knew she was in the story and they would reconnect. As he talks with her and I see her through his eyes (I’m also writing a first person POV for the first time), he gets all mushy. And I realize—he’s still in love with her. Very much in love with her.
I’ve never had a character throw this big a curveball at me. When I asked him about this, he shrugged. I asked what about him and the female protagonist and their relationship. He patted me on the shoulder and said, “You’ll figure it out.”
I can’t wait to see where this takes us.
How about you? What is the most surprising thing a character has done to you? How did you handle it?
One of my characters fell for her oldest and best friend instead of the guy I thought she’d end up with, something that could hurt her in the long run if they split up. But that’s for another book. Have fun breaking into something new. I hope you enjoy the free writing sans outline as much as I do.
Thanks, Tina. I’m enjoying my characters revealing their quirks and stuff in the story rather than me programming it in an outline.
Im getting very comfortable without an outline, at least in this book.
One of my characters fell in love with another, and I had been dead set on not having any romance at all in the book.
Introducing fantasy author Sir Henry McKnight
Characters are so much like children sometimes.
And I like the suggestion for a pen name.
Henry, great post! I’ve always been a “seat of the pants” writer and while it’s frustrating sometimes–make that MOST of the time–I find it works better for me than outlining. To be honest, I haven’t given outlining a fair shot, but I honestly don’t know where my story is going until I get there and the characters tell me. If I hang on long enough, they spill, and my story unfolds. Thanks for a great article!
Thanks for the comment, Deb.
Even when I outlined extensively, my characters still rebelled and took the story off the outline–and made it better in doing so.
With SOP, I find it helpful to free write about the story every once in a while to highlight where the story is heading and than let the characters loose in the manuscript.