Planning for the Unexpected

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?



Filed under writing

14 responses to “Planning for the Unexpected

  1. That’s AWESOME! I love it when that happens!

  2. I’m glad you had a breakthrough 🙂 and keeping an open mind is certainly a great way to keep things happening and the writing going.

  3. I’ve done something similar with a WIP before and it ended up being my favorite part of the whole book. Great advice and great post!

  4. I just had mine hide in an old stone chimney sitting alone in the desert from a burned down house. Didn’t see that one coming. They were supposed to stay in Hollywood. Characters gone wild.

  5. Catherine Johnson

    Wonderful post, Vicki and I’m always open to the strange lol. I’m getting the Night Circus from the library today amongst other goodies 🙂
    I think it’s wonderful that you stepped back and thought to turn the scene on its head like that. I can’t wait to read it!

  6. Fantastic! This has really made me think. Great post.

  7. Gee. Welcome to the dark side. hee hee.

  8. I remember Erin’s advice and I used it during NaNo too! My “off to the circus” stunt was to introduce a mysterious man in black that wasn’t in my outline but added a whole new dimension of tension and conflict in the story! It’s so cool how those “under the pressure” things work out sometimes! Thanks for reminding me of this!

  9. lauraelaro

    Love the strange! =)

  10. I’m an outliner too, and I definitely get that slaggy feeling during many scenes. I’ll try to take Erin’s advice and see if it works!

  11. I outline, but with the view that I can change directions if I want, and other than the NEAR chapters, I outline very loosely (I call it timelining, actually). Definitely like doing some unexpected something in there. My other NaNo trick though, is to just write a few lines about what a scene needs to DO and then skip ahead. I finished book is 80-90K, so if I have a couple skipped scenes to fill in later, it’s all good.

  12. I get stuck in spots of my manuscript too. Though I don’t outline, I picture many of the main scenes before they unfold. But sometimes I need something significant in between, but I don’t know what it is. Sometimes I reflect for a few days. Sometime I write it out. Making a bigger scene than I intended might be fun. Never know where it might lead for a panster…

  13. An awesome post! Thanks for sharing such great post!

  14. What a great idea! I can’t do a circus in 1493, but maybe I could… hmm… have some sort of village fete!

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