My son unexpectedly developed appendicitis Tuesday morning, and unexpectedly was rushed to surgery at 3am on Wednesday. Needless to say, my whole week may as well have been flushed after that, but as a writer, I try to use every experience to my advantage with the writing. Sometimes life events help my writing in unexpected ways.
Given the week I’ve just had (and thank Elvis it is over), I’ve been thinking a lot lately about dealing with the unexpected. There are several ways that this concept could apply to writing, in my experience. Whether it’s the story that throws you a curve ball of a revelation, or the characters who are surprised by the (generally unpleasant) twists and turns of your plot, dealing with the unexpected is part of every writer’s job.
The most difficult of the unexpected changes I’ve faced, writing the last couple of novels I’ve finished, were my own realizations. One example of the many happened when I was working on Hunters. I was in shock for a week when I realized that one of my characters was most decidedly gay (and very deeply suppressed himself). My alpha readers saw it. My subconscious must have, because when I went back to reread it, I saw clear hints of it myself. But I had no idea. This aspect of his character was completely unexpected.
At that moment, I had a choice to face. I could accept this hidden undertone in his personality and leave it unrealized and the course of the story unchanged. I could go back and scrub out ever hint of genuine personality my subconscious had given this character, and with it lose depth of meaning for who he was. Or… if done carefully, I could redefine the story with this realization in mind, play with it and see how things unfolded now that I was aware of the undertones I had written into his first few scenes.
In the end, that character, who was meant to be a walk-on Red Shirt (ie dies to motivate the really important characters), became one of the two protagonists of Hunters, not because he was gay, but because his personality had layers and depth that deserved a more prominent place in the story. And shaping his story helped me develop a much richer plot to Hunters than I had originally envisioned.
Oddly enough, adding a major GLBT element to the plot in a big way didn’t really change the themes. The themes were there all along, my themes, the ones that mattered to me when I envisioned Hunters and that still matter to me as a writer and as a person who has survived poverty, child abuse, prejudice, and lack of social acceptance.
Particularly for writers who do not use an outline, but perhaps for all writers of fiction, dealing with the unexpected is just part of the job. Yet it is how we deal with those unexpected moments that define our style, our voice, and our personal themes.
How do you deal with the unexpected? Do you bend the story to your original expectations, or roll with the changes?