For writers; dealing with “surprises”

You know I’ve been working on “Hunter – Eye in the Storm”.  What?  You don’t?  Uh-oh.  Maybe my overdeveloped ego has fooled me into thinking EVERYONE knows about it. Huh… I’ll have to do some ego-resetting.  Bad ego!

Anyway, “Eye in the Storm” is my full-length sci-fantasy novel.  Those of you who have read my “Hunter” short stories already know and love him (or hate; here is no middle ground with him) With his leather trench-coat, natty fedora, and ever-present shotgun, you gotta do a double-take.  On the second look, you might notice his snarky wit.  That’s the killer right there.  So, having amused myself for a few months with the short stories, I figured, what the heck.  I’ll take a stab at a full novel.

So far, based on my alpha reader’s commentary, it’s worth reading.  Since I hit 63K words today, here’s looking at you, prospective beta-readers; it should be coming your way soon!

Having thus introduced you to my project, I’ll progress into the subject of today’s post (see how I did that?  that’s called a “segue”; cool, huh?) which is the “surprise”.

See, in the world of writing, the “surprise” isn’t the same thing as it is in everyday life.  In the NORMAL world, a surprise can be either good or bad, just so long as you’re not expecting it.  That’s the entirety of it.  In writing, it’s a development you didn’t plan for, one that shows up when it’s good and ready.  A writing ‘surprise’ really isn’t bad or good.  It just is, and it really doesn’t care much what you think of it.

“Who asked you?” the surprise says, when it shows up on your doorstep.  “I’m here and there’s fat lot of nothing you can do about it.  Now, get out of the way.”

“What does all this have to do with “Eye in the Storm’?”, you might ask.  Good question.  And slow down and take a seat.  I was getting to it.  Grab a cup of coffee (or tea, oh dear alpha reader) and be quiet.  This could take a while.

To start with, Hunter surprises me fairly frequently.  I’ve gotten used to it.  It’s a product of my writing style.  I write in a way that would have authors gasping in horror and then fainting on top of their massive pre-writing outline.  I DON’T outline.  I just wanna write the story.  Without an outline, plan, or specific direction, the story is as much fun for me to write as it is (I hope) for you to read.  Maybe this doesn’t work for most people, but it’s turned out okay for me.

Since I write this way, each new page is a bit of surprise.  Some stories, like high fantasy novels, are pretty obvious, so it’s not a HUGE shock when something happens.  When that happens, I’ve usually had a faint, annoying feeling that something is going to happen.  But Hunter…. ah, Hunter is Hunter, which means I never know who he’s going to shoot, capture, work for, or insult next.  He surprises me fairly frequently.  When he does, I stand gaping for a minute or two, then get back to work.

But last Tuesday, something odd happened.  Let me tell you about it.  Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there was a young man sitting in front of a typewriter…. hold on a sec.  Wrong story, sorry.  Okay, it was last Tuesday and I was writing Chapter 22 in “Eye in the Storm”.  It was going along swimmingly, which is to say, it was going in the general direction that I’d been expecting me.  Hunter was making his usual witty comments, causing as much trouble as possible in each paragraph, so long as he didn’t exert himself too much.

At that particular junction, he was up to his neck in trouble, as usual, with a prisoner on one side and a ticked off ally on the other.  And he pushed it a little too far.  Not surprisingly of course.  He does it fairly frequently, usually leaving me to figure out how to dig him out of it, the jerk.  That’s when it happened.  The surprise.  It just barged in, no ‘please’, ‘no thank you’, no ‘pardon me’.  Just slammed open my door and thumped itself down on my typewriter with this ‘we both know you don’t like it, so just get over yourself already’ look on its surprising little face.

Hunter got himself out of trouble.  Very fast, very competently, and in a most beautifully scary way.  Didn’t ask me to write him out of it, not even once.  I was stunned. So were all the other characters.  Sure, we knew he was the best Hunter there is, tough and good at his job, but we didn’t know he was SCARY, too!  I know, it sounds weird that my own character surprised me, but I did not know he had it in him.

The point of this story is, even the most seat-of-your-pants writer can get surprised by his story. They rarely go EXACTLY the way we’re expecting.  Even when we plan out every, single, tiny, minute, massive, important, useless detail, the story can send in a surprise.  As authors, it’s tough to deal with.  Come on, all this work, and my wayward imagination and my story get together and throw me this completely non-script detail or scene?  That’s just not fair.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret.  No matter how much the surprise messes up your plot, no matter how much you hate it, no matter how hard it’s going to be to fit into the story properly, leave it. If a surprise comes knocking on your door that hard, it belongs in the story.  If you can’t NOT write it, you can be sure that there’s a reason it’s there.  The best characters write themselves.  Don’t complain when they decide they don’t want to do whatever it is you decided needs to be done.  They’ll do it their own way.

So what if it wrecks the story?  It was probably boring, anyway.  The new one just might be better.

One thought on “For writers; dealing with “surprises”

  1. Mad

    Last time I asked your ego what the letters E.G.O were short for it said: Excellent
    Genius
    Operations”
    so, yes, I would recommend that you set it back a hair 😉

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