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!

Published by WarrenBluhm

Wordsmith and podcaster, Warren is a reporter, editor and storyteller who lives near the shores of Green Bay with his wife, two golden retrievers, Dejah and Summer, and Blackberry, an insistent cat. Author of Full, Refuse to be Afraid, Gladness is Infectious, 24 flashes, How to Play a Blue Guitar, Myke Phoenix: The Complete Novelettes, A Bridge at Crossroads, The Imaginary Bomb, A Scream of Consciousness, and The Imaginary Revolution.

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