Subject to change

A post at Kill Zone Blog that made me smile in recognition: Subject to Change With Noticing

A friend of mine, a #1 NYT bestselling writer, once remarked to me, “I didn’t plan on killing this character. I started writing the scene and found him dead.”

Don’t just be about imposing your plans on the story to the detriment of happy surprises. Be ready to shift and move. This applies to all types of writers. A planner might resist changing the plans, while a pantser might resist going down a rabbit trail.When in doubt, add a character. (Remember Raymond Chandler’s advice to bring in a guy with a gun?) Whenever I’ve come to a “thin middle” the first thing I do is add a character. A minor or secondary character who shows up, with an agenda and a backstory, is the fastest way to fight second-act drag.

I am here to tell you, you don’t need to be in doubt to add a character. Characters proliferate in every direction. Every now and then I do in fact resist adding a character … RIHASI is 176,000 words for crying out loud, the last thing it needs is another character EVEN THOUGH A NEAT SCENE SUGGESTED ITSELF TO ME LAST NIGHT. No. That scene is not happening.

But, it was really entertaining to watch characters suddenly appear.

The most noticeable with RIHASI was … look, at one point, Rihasi and Kior are approaching a town, and Kior says, basically, “Let’s hang back a bit and not crowd the people in front of us; that’s obviously a high noble and his entourage.” Rihasi then glances up and says, “Oh, that’s probably Prince Sekaran and his daughter Illiethani.”

You know why that carriage was there? It was there as SCENERY, so that the world would have PEOPLE in it, full stop. It was like describing the wall and the gate and the mountains to either side. It was exactly like that. “Oh, by the way, there are people present in the world.” That’s it! AFTER I put that carriage on the road, I thought, “Oh, hey, I can think of one very high ranking person who might be fun to meet! That could be Sekaran! Oh, I can mention his daughter and start to get her set up for when she becomes a real character in some future book!”

And thus Sekaran stepped into the novel. Once he was there, he needed stuff to do and a fair bit of the plot suddenly reoriented itself around him. And thus the book became longer. This is a major source of unexpected words for me.

Once the story moves into Avaras – the king’s city, the capital — almost at once, Kior bumps, by chance, into a mercenary named Bereket, and that was supposed to be just a brief appearance and Bereket was supposed to disappear again after that. But, nope. He had some fun lines — he’s very cynical, and curious as a cat — and I thought, “Oh, you know what, Bereket is available for this plot twist I didn’t see coming until I was nearly there, but here I am and I can give this to Bereket.” Then, once he was there, playing a role that important, I thought okay, fine, and gave him more to do. He’s kind of fun. We might at least glimpse him in a later book.

Then Rihasi and Kior ran into some trouble in Avaras and needed cover to get out of the city and boom! Hamathani and Vakareos and the rest appeared, and took a fairly important part for a couple of chapters — important enough that I thought maybe I better mention them in the epilogue — and by the time I finally wrote the epilogue, they were central to it.

Which I didn’t have in mind AT ALL until I was re-reading the whole book at the end, because I wrote the epilogue very, very late, like the day before I sent the novel to first readers. [And it turned out to be not quite finished because I’d forgotten I got tired and quit with about a page left to write, and the fastest early reader therefore tripped over the not-quite-finished bit because she read the book so fast she got there before I sent the updated version, 24 hours later.]

Subject to change indeed! I had some of the core of the story in my head when I started, but whoa, did the periphery change and change again during the writing process!

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4 thoughts on “Subject to change”

  1. As a reader, I am sometimes astonished when an author mentions in passing that a particular character or event was a last minute inspiration, and to me it seems so central that I can’t imagine the book without it. That is, I suppose, the magic of the muse.

  2. A murder mystery writer once told me that she doesn’t know who did it until she gets close to the end, or even into revision. I find this hard to believe … but not that hard!

  3. I’m with OtterB, astonished.

    There was a similar article on Friedman’s blog recently about adding complications in the form of unexpected characters. It mentioned Heyer’s Venetia, but you could probably find Heyer doing this in all of her novels, which is one reason they’re so fun.

  4. You are not alone in being unable to tell. Sometimes the writer (waves) only knows from memory.

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