Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Insecure writer: challenged by the unexpected

Something I've been noticing lately with examples of writing that catch my attention are the scenarios where a character does something unexpected, or something happens unexpectedly.

The first Wednesday of the month
 is time for Insecure Writers Support Group,
hosted by Alex Cavanaugh and his
excellent team. 
For instance, I read a great first chapter from a friend in our writer's group where her character felt compelled to buy a desert jackal for sale at market. He thinks he feels some sort of bond with the critter, but after the purchase the jackal bites him and runs away.

What? I did not expect that. But I sympathized with the character more after that event.

Perhaps in subconcious response to reading that, or in subconscious reaction to the new Cinderella movie, I was daydreaming the other day and a story idea popped into my head where a girl and a prince meet, and it's not love at first sight. It's hate at first sight. I wanted to find out why they hated each other, and I wanted to see how that hate could be overcome. So much more intriguing.

I also just finished reading a book where the main character always said something in conversations that I didn't expect.  It made her fascinating.

It's hard to write this way. Of course it's natural to write what first comes to mind, but it's a good exercise to force myself to delete the first thing that comes out, and come up with an unexpected thing.

It takes a lot longer. It means long pauses in my writing, while I'm casting about for ideas. And the first few attempts at "unexpected" are lame, but then the next day at some random moment I'll think of something unexpected that makes me smile, something that fits in a perfectly unsettling sort of way.

We writers are twisted sorts of creatures, aren't we?

11 comments:

  1. For my IWSG post I wrote about a Donald Maass workshop I attended, and though I wrote about different aspect, he also touches on this. He encouraged writers not ditch setting and character introspection for the sake of plot, but instead to make those things interesting; often we're advised to cut because the description is boring and not infused with point of view, and the characters ponder obvious things.

    You're right, it definitely takes longer. I'm realizing there are no shortcuts to this writing thing :)

    Here's my post: Stephanie Scott IWSG April post

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    1. That is so true! No shortcuts! I used to think good writing just poured out of you, but really (at least for me) the stuff that pours out, I have to cut most of it to save a few gems, and then rebuild painstakingly.

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  2. It's hard to write that way but it's a great way to intrigue the reader. Thanks for the tip.

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  3. I'm all for unpredictable plot twists and character choices as long as the writer can sell me on it.

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    1. Good point, for unpredictable to work it still has to fit!

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  4. This is one of those things that be great if you do it right, but I've seen some plot twists that cheapened the story for me. The best twists to me are ones that make me look at the story much differently than I would have on my first go-through and think that certain things feel like hints in retrospect.

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    1. That is such excellent insight, I'm writing it into my notes: the best twists are the ones that make me look at the story much differently than I would have on my first go through"

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  5. So true. I think it's the surprises--even a surprising use of language--that keeps me reading. I don't know if you do this--but I often make a list when I'm stuck about what might happen next. The first few things are usually predicable, but as the list goes on, it gets more unexpected and intriguing.
    Good luck with your princess tale if you decide to write it--it sounds intriguing. :)

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    1. I am huge fan of lists, too. (Not to-do lists. I hate those) but literary lists? Much more fun and helpful.

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  6. Yes, I agree, I love it when scenes and characters take me by surprise! The element of unpredictability makes me want to keep reading a book - what will happen next?! I have no idea!

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