I am not 100% a “pantser” nor a “planner”–I’m more of a “road trip writer.” I know the general direction I’m heading and some major landmarks along the way, but I’m not picky about how I get to the landmarks: I let the characters do their thing and I end up seeing some pretty spiffy side-jaunts, and we end up where we need to go.
Recently I hit the last big landmark, a massacre at Lanakila Camp (for years it was called “Litlen.” One of my major characters also got a name-change midgame, from Marzu Makza to Marzu Mākaha, because I want POLYNESIA IN SPACE durnit!!). After the massacre, I knew my protagonist would date a gal, get married and start leading his double-life with a family in tow.
Only one problem: the family wasn’t showing up. And except for a name-drop a hundred pages ago, the date wasn’t showing up either.
For many years, I knew Lanakila Camp was my last big scene, and I didn’t have any solid landmarks after that. I knew afterwards, this family thing would happen (I had bios and names and occupations for all the kids; I’d fleshed out different scenarios with these characters every night in my head while waiting for sleep to arrive) and I figured from there, the novel’d guide me.
It was extremely strange, realizing that this entire time, while I thought I was preparing for the second half of my novel, I’d basically been envisioning fanfic of it for the past few years.
Hunh, I thought to myself. There was no way I could shoehorn a family in. And I wasn’t feeling it anyway (I refuse to force things into my stories…they’re either there–usually extremely there, with making up mind-melting explanations as I hang on for dear life–or they’re not.)
Unsure how to cope, I did what any self-respecting writer would do: I wrote about it. I wrote out all my fears about no longer having a clear direction to follow, about how, if I was honest, it was true, his wife had never had a character that gripped me. I talked about how this made sense–my cast had grown to a point where it couldn’t sustain another five major characters…but also had enough different personalities to work interesting things with. Plus, I realized, the story really got cookin’ when things were focused around my two leads–adding a third lead would just dilute the impact of that relationship.
Writing all this helped me let go of that alternate universe that I thought was going to be canon. I typed out the aftermath of Lanakila Camp and reminded myself that if I showed up, the writing would show me what it wanted to do.
“Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door. ” — Coco Chanel