Monday, November 29, 2010

Letting it Flow

So, NaNo is almost over. Can I first ask why it’s still called NaNoWriMo? I mean, doesn’t that “Na” for “national?” If people from all over the world are participating, shouldn’t it be International? Anyway, I digress. NaNo is almost over. If you are like me, it already is. I hit the 50k mark and that was it, job done. Sure I kept writing but I no longer counted my words. That’s the way it is with me. Have a goal, reach it, be happy. Maybe I should be concerned. I mean, what, if anything, does the fact that I don’t go above and beyond the call of duty say about me? (g)

Regardless of all that, I’m glad I joined. I liked working toward the same goal alongside my friends. It was fun to get daily reports from them, hear the griping, and share the inspired clips. It also taught me things about writing.

One big thing that hit me was the difference between plotting out a story and letting the plot flow organically. When I say this, I’m talking about nuance not the big picture. That is to say, plotting would entail setting up each scene, writing out (or thinking out) what is going to happen from points A thru Z in specific detail. Letting a plot run organically is about knowing the skeleton of the story but letting your characters take you down that road without making them do what you want them to do.

NaNo is about getting words down, thus it is about speed. I found that when I had to just sit down and write, write, write, I had to know my characters enough to trust them. This was a bit like method acting. You go deep into character and just let them loose. A funny thing happens, however, once you let those guys out of the box. They don’t always want to go where you plan for them to go.

This kind of talk can come off as a bit of writing hoo-ha, I know. But go with me for a minute here.

If you fall deep into character and really let them develop into fully fleshed people, you’ll find that certain actions don’t make sense anymore. For instance, I intended to have my two main characters, Monday and Hunt be outwardly cold toward each other for quite a long while. They would go about their business, needle each other, and generally dislike each other until, well, they didn’t. (g) For some reason, I wanted their relationship to be about restraint, show the isolation in their lives and the way they reflected the world in which they live, and, blah, blah, blah…

Because Hunt and Monday did not agree with that directive. They instantly started sparring. Yes, they needled each other but it became WAY more sexual than I intended. So much so that suddenly Hunt’s crying, “Road trip! Off to France we go. And, by the way, would you fancy a shag?” And Monday’s biting her lip to keep them off of Hunt. What? But I didn’t want them to go to France. I needed them to do this, that, and the other thing so that this and that can happen. Dang it! But when I tried to force the issue, the scenes suddenly felt disingenuous. Why?

Forcing my heroes to do certain things, make certain choices didn’t work because that was now out of character for them. If they don’t believe it, I don’t believe it and, guess what? The reader won’t believe it.

Forcing a plot can be a subtle thing, one you might not even notice until the work is all done. For instance, when working on my last story, my agent had the temerity (bg) to ask me, “Why is your character doing all of this?” What do you mean why? Because he is, because that’s how the plot goes. Err…no. Actually, that was the whole point. Why WAS he acting this way? If his actions aren’t in keeping with the person he is, then I am telling a lie. Sure on the surface what my character was doing seemed perfectly logical. Believable even. Only when you looked at the story as a whole, stepped back from it, there was this glaring hole. And that hole was clear, why had he made this certain choice that leads him to all this trouble? Ah, thank you, dear, wonderful agent for sparing from going out with egg on my face.

The solution was actually simple. I just had HIM tell me why. I went deep into character and thought it through from his POV. He knew why he acted the way he did. Thus it was a matter of going back, fixing scenes that didn’t work and then the plot was sound.

Now with this new story, I created characters that were so initially restrained they were like steaming kettles just moments away from blowing their lids. Which really, when I think about it, works much better as an analogy for the world I’m creating anyway. There is no way they are going to act the way I planed, thus no way certain plot elements are going to work. But that’s okay. A better story will come out because it will be a truer story.

And that is the point of organic plot flow. Sometimes, by letting go, not over-thinking things, you allow your subconscious mind to work out and pick up wonderful avenues and deep nuances that you were unaware of having. Letting go, trusting your characters to choose the path they need to choose can be a wonderful thing for your story.

I knew this before. Hell, at some point in every story I write the characters finally say, enough, you’re going at this all wrong, let us step in and fix this mess. (g) But when participating in NaNo, I really felt the strength in this approach because I was forced to turn off that external editor for the sake of time and speed. And what a fun this it was to see my new story unfurl in ways I couldn’t imagine.

So. What about you? Did NaNo show you any unexpected insights into the writing process?

AND, because we’re still in the sharing month (g) a tiny exchange in which I get to know my characters a bit better:

And then they were gone. Simply gone. She blinked at the spot where he and Lazarus had been. Nothing but a puddle of blood, the smear of a handprint. Gone. A disjointed laugh broke from her lips. Gone.

“Pull it together, Monday!”

She inhaled sharply at Hunt’s command. He slid down the wall, clutching his gun. Dust and glass sparkled in his mussed hair. His sun-browned skin was white with powdered mortar, streaks of sweat running in dark rivers over his lean cheeks.

“I’m almost out of ammunition.” His mouth moved. She watched it, fascinated by the softness of the wide bottom lip. “We’ve got to get out now or end up like Peter…” He frowned. “Are you hearing me, Monday?” Blue eyes squinted as he drew near. “Say something rude so I know.” He snapped his fingers an inch from her nose.

She straightened and swatted him away. “Ass.”

His teeth flashed, white and gleaming amongst the dirt. “Good.” He glanced about. “The exit is blocked.” END


  1. Characters don't like being forced, do they? One of mine has rejected a whole set of behaviors that I had thought was ingrained. I'll have to rewrite big chunks of the beginning to eliminate them, but I'm not complaining. *g* She's just feeling more real because of this month's push.

  2. Ah, love this snip Miss K. I could envisage it as a scene in a movie, in fact ...

    And yes. BIG insights for this little black duck. More on this later, but yeah, great to have some insights into what actually makes my writing brain work.

  3. Great snip!
    I can't think of a better example than me trying to have one of my characters die, only for him to come back and say, "no dear, I'm not finished with this life yet" :-)