Here’s to surprises

(there are literally times I sit down to write with no idea what will be written, and no-one is more surprised than I am when it shows up).

— Toirdhealbheach Beucail, in an aside in his New Year’s post.

In the first novel I published, The Imaginary Bomb, my two lead characters, Bob Whelan and Pete Wong, walked into a bar, where they got into an argument with a large, burly man named Baxter Hetznecker. I intended for Bob and Pete to detach themselves from the big guy and continue on their adventure, but in the course of writing that scene I suddenly discovered that Baxter was my third lead character and, in fact, the linchpin of the whole story.

That’s one of those moments when I started to doubt whether it’s a good idea to outline a story. When you just have a general idea of where you’re going, it’s more fun to write a story than if you’ve blocked out every scene and are just connecting dots along the way. Added to that is the fact that several times when I’ve drafted a detailed outline, I was so pleased with the way the story turned out in the outline that I never bothered to flesh it out into an actual novel.

Of course, several times I’ve also decided to just write where the story takes me and got stuck in a place where I didn’t know what to do next. My main problem has always been just finishing, no matter which writing method I adopt.

And I must admit, in the case of The Imaginary Bomb, I just went back and rewrote the outline with Baxter in it. In fact, the whole book started when I wrote a paragraph describing what happened to the moon. That paragraph appears in the penultimate chapter almost exactly as I originally wrote it. 

The bottom line, I suspect, is to know the ending and figure out a way to get there. The happy thing is either approach — an outline or flying by the seat of your pants — can succeed. It’s a variation on the adage, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” If you DO know where you’re going, you still have a whole variety of roads that will get you there, and the fun is in choosing which roads.

And here’s the best part: I had no idea when I started writing that I was going to write about my first novel. I just took TB’s quote and ran with it. Surprise!

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