Writing the Unexpected


Thoreau once said, “Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.”

Writing can involve a lot of meandering, a lot of throwing out of material. A lot of what feels like wasted time. The trick, I’ve begun to think lately, is to just accept it, to say to yourself, “I will try this. I will set aside my outline for a few hours and see where this new idea leads, even though I may waste the day on it and throw it out.”

If you can do this, you open yourself up to surprises. The surprise might be a character. The friend of the sister of your main character pops up like an unwanted guest on page five, and she wants to stay. She wants to take over. Or it could be the setting. You have pages of heavily researched description of life on an ocean liner, but you realize that what your character truly wants and needs most, lies at the end of the Appalachian Trail. It might not work, but then again it might. Because sometimes a good surprise can be better than a road map. Sometimes it can be exactly what you need.








8 thoughts on “Writing the Unexpected

  1. I love it when the plot and/or characters start to take on a life of their own and make things happen that you never knew were going to happen. But, you’re right, it’s so hard to throw out a day’s worth – or a few hours worth – of work! I think that it’s not how we are conditioned to think in our every day lives – you don’t spend a bunch of time on something that may be a waste of time. But, in the end, even the dead ends in writing almost always show you something you were needing to figure out.

  2. Very true! I outline like crazy, but I try really hard not to let my outlines limit me once I get writing. I reference it here and there, but if the story wants to go in a new direction, I let it go and try to see where that new road leads.

  3. I am the queen of meandering. Usually it’s the only way I can work through issues. I keep writing and writing until everything clicks into place. Maybe not the most efficient method, but it works for me 🙂

  4. I used to write without an outline, and see where it would take me. The more I write, the more I rely on outlines, but there’s always room for serendipity. Following my intuition has given me some of the best moments in my books!

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