Stories are like childhood friends. Some days you’d be perfectly happy to cuddle up, get married, and spend the rest of your lives together. Other days, you want to take them by the shoulders and give them a good shaking until they start working properly.
They’re also a little bit alive. The majority of writers I know (and by ‘know’ I’m using the term loosely to include personal friends on the road to publication, correspondence with actual authors, blogs, and the like) have all bemoaned the fact that while they are trying to take the story from A to B, the story has chimed in and informed the author that, actually, it wants to go to Zenon with a side trip in Madland. The choice is then up to the author. Do I force the story to go the way I want it? Or do I let it go on its own mad journey and see where we end up?
I’m currently 15,000 words from finishing my 5th NaNo novel. The other four years* I started with an idea, usually along the lines of a place or a person or a situation. One of my favorites was, “What would happen if I put Hansel and Gretel in space? And added zombies and cyborgs and the Three Bears as giant ninja aliens?”
This year, however, I started with A Plan. Now, plans are dangeroussss things. Prone to biting you in the butt. Much like velociraptors. If you have An Idea, you are free to go where ever the evil (yet oh so delicious) little story gremlins decide to take you. With A Plan, however, you are linked to a specific footpath.
Footpaths, as any person who has gone hiking in a nature place will know, are prone to offshoots, detours, and winding roundabout ways of getting somewhere. However, in the end, you do eventually get to your destination. Sometimes with blisters and a sunburn, sometimes with photographs that are so pretty they’ll make you cry, but, yes, you do get there.
But what about when you plop a great big building in the middle of your pretty little nature place? Or populate it with flesh-eating sunflowers? Or add in a few armies? What happens to your footpath then?
That, essentially**, is what I have done this year. I started out with A Plan. My character was going on a Quest to find his One True Love so he could come home and Rule the Kingdom. It was intended to be riddled with fantasy clichés. It was supposed to be an enjoyable break to celebrate finishing my second year of studying to be a teacher.
Did this happen? No, of course not. That lasted for all of 3,000 words.
Then I added a villainess who was more smart than evil. After all, she didn’t want blood in her morning coffee, as it makes the coffee taste funny.
I stuck in a whole subplot about dragons, building on my ideas from my very first NaNo novel, back from 2005, the last year I spent any real time working on fantasy rather than science fiction.
Eventually, the original “prince going on a quest to find his one true love” plot had completely vanished, except as a reason why my prince left his kingdom, opening the way for my villainess to stick herself on the throne. Now I have a giant complicated mess with three separate storylines intersecting and breeding. I swear they’re breeding.
*and I’m only counting the years I’ve reached the 50,000 word mark. There are two unfinished attempts at NaNo that skulk in the bottom of my hard drive.
**maybe not essentially. Metaphorically? Rachel-is-batty-ily?