A member of our critique group and I were discussing how we begin to write a story, be it
novel or short story. I said I begin with a character, and her next question set me to thinking a lot about how I really create that character. Unlike those who plan everything, I imagine a character who will be strong enough to stand up to all that will happen to her. And I don’t yet know what that might be.
Early on in my writing career, I daydreamed my stories for a long while before I began to write, and I knew very little about putting a book together. But I knew my strength lay in long stories. There’s a magic that occurs, at least with my writing. And no amount of preplanning is done. For if I do that the magic of creating disappears. I have lost it.
So what I had to tell this member of our group was, I simply place this woman in a situation, and turn her loose. I learn about her as she begins to live this tale. What her fears are, what her faults and weaknesses are, and best of all what her strengths are. No charts or notes for
me. That comes much later, and then only so I’ll remember what has happened. I jot down things like the name of a man she meets, what kind of house she lives in. After all, once I realize who she is, then I can know where she will live and how she will react to certain situations.
Surprises for both her and me lurk around every corner. Oh, I know, sometimes something happens that I can’t extricate her from, and I have to back up and rearrange things a bit. Often I’ll think, now why did this happen in this way? Then as the story progresses, it becomes clear.
I believe that this is because as a writer, I have things filed away in my brain, and they come out as needed, without forethought on my part. If my character is going to need something later in the story, I believe I sense it and give it to her.
This style of writing can produce some difficulties. Usually when I finish the first draft, later events have made it necessary to change earlier events. In the draft for my second in the Victorian series, as I wrote, the hero surprised me by getting drunk and walking in front of a dray. It ran over both his legs and mangled them. I had no idea this was going to happen, but it took the story in a new direction. Later I realized that I didn’t want him permanently crippled, and in that day and age, this type of injury might have caused such a thing, so I fixed it so that only one leg was run over with no long term damage.
When something like this occurs in my plot, I don’t go back and do the repairs then, I keep focused on finishing the book. In an immediate second draft, with my notes next to the computer, I make minor repairs where needed to fit the eventual outcome of the book. It’s the way I like to write because it’s more fun. It’s surprising. It’s magic.