So, you’ve finally done it. You’ve completed your outline for your novel or short story and you’re ready to sit down and write. Your fingers are poised over the keys of your computer – or typewriter, if you’re old school – you take a deep breath, and dive into the story.
As you start to dig into story, you realize that your main character is taking you down a storyline that you didn’t outline or anticipate. In fact, it’s almost as if your protagonist is in control of what they’re saying and doing. It’s as if you are only there to transcribe the events as they unfold. A mere voyeur to a story you hadn’t even planned.
This is a good thing!
I’ve had these moments happen many times while writing. I think I’m going to take the story one place due to planning ahead, and then the main character takes the wheel and we go off on a weed-infested dirt road that I never even knew was there. It’s at these moments while writing – especially during the drafting process – that it’s best to just sit back and see where things go.
Sometimes you’ll hit a dead end. Sometimes you’ll learn something new about the character and the choices they make that can have an impact on the story and in turn the character’s interactions with others in the story. The key during these moments is not to fight the creativity taking hold of your brain and your fingers as the rapidly pound the keys to get every sentence down as fast as possible.
And it’s not only a great method of discovery for your main character. Supporting characters can benefit and develop greatly during this process of creative surrender. Maybe you have a character who you feel isn’t strong or dimensional enough; but while writing a sequence that includes them they begin to say things and do things that make them far more interesting and instrumental to the overall story. That’s always an exciting time!
While I do support writing outlines, I also believe that as creative people we must allow ourselves to give into the temptation of going where our roadmap doesn’t. Even if you do return to the road you previously paved, you may have learned a thing or two that can benefit your characters – and your story – in the long run.
Have you ever let your characters take the wheel and take your story down a trail you never expected? Leave a comment and let me know!