The title for this post may seem like a contradiction in terms, but I assure you it makes sense.
I love drafting a new story. It fills me with energy. I can’t sleep for thinking about it. I spend every minute (waking or otherwise) thinking about this new book-in-the-making.
But, there comes a time – at least one – in the drafting of every new novel, when the energy flags, despite my best efforts before writing. I’m an outliner. I have never hidden that fact. I like following a plan and still letting the creativity flow. But sometimes I reach a scene that I’m just not feeling. I procrastinate, and hem and haw, and eventually eke out a sentence at a time until I refind my mojo.
During NaNo, author Erin Morgenstern gave a pep talk that mentioned sending her characters to the circus when she got bored with her NaNo novel. In case you don’t know her, Erin is the best-selling author of The Night Circus. Ahem.
I tucked that little piece of information away and didn’t think very hard about it. There was certainly no way to send my characters to a circus, or anywhere else too over the top, within the parameters of my outline (and this isn’t the fault of the outline. I could just as easily say within the parameters of my novel). But, I reached that point in the middle where I lost the energy and excitement I’d started with. Because it was NaNo, I didn’t have my usual luxury of procrastinating or eking out a sentence at a time. I needed a couple of thousand words that day.
Then I remembered Erin’s piece of advice and I found something unexpected to do with my characters. It excited me so much that I couldn’t wait to get the idea down on paper, so to speak. I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. My characters didn’t go somewhere bizarre for their story. A character I planned on harassing my main character instead apologized, and it led the story in a different direction than I’d planned, but a direction that did eventually lead where I needed the story to go.
Maybe I’ll end up cutting those scenes when I go back to revise, but maybe I won’t. Maybe it was just the kick in the pants the story needed at that point in the plot. Maybe it will deepen both characters. And even if I cut those scenes, I got new insight into those two characters that must show through the rest of the novel. Which gives me an idea for a new pre-writing exercise.
So I urge you to leave room in your outline, brain, heart, or wherever, to allow for something unexpected to happen while you write. Just be open to the idea. Be open to the strange.
Where can you send your characters to shake things up? What unexpected action can they take? Will you do it?