Meeting characters and pantsing plots

I’ve been continuing to work on the new novel, shorthanded to “Secrets”, on the side the last week or so; I’m up past 10k words and feeling pretty good about how it’s rolling out. As I said before, I’m pantsing this one, so I don’t know everything about the story going in; I know the two main characters and I have a sense of the central conflict, but if Magestone taught me anything it’s that what you think the story is going to be when you start writing page one is not what the story ends up being when you reach the end.

A good example of how this happens is something that occurred to me today. In the next scene I’m preparing to write, the main character Indigo’s grandmother calls her up to make sure she’s okay because she just got a call from the police (who are trying to track down Indigo’s mother). I do my daily brainstorming primarily while out walking the dogs, so today I was working out how that scene would start. And Grandma Roberts starts talking when Indy picks up the phone:

“Indigo? Oh, thank goodness you’re alright! My dear, we had such a scare about you! We just got a call from the police, and – well, they’d actually called last night after we had already retired, I think, and they called again this morning, twice, I think, but I didn’t answer because the display said ‘Toronto Police Service’ and I just thought, oh no, your cousin has gone and got himself in trouble again, and your grandfather has been having trouble with his rheumatism acting up lately and I really didn’t feel up to thinking about Derek right now and so I ignored it, but then it turned out to be about your MOTHER of all people! Oh, Indigo, are you alright, dear?” (She continued to ramble on a bit, but I’ll cut her off there.)

So I listened to her for a bit, and she says this thing about Derek, Indigo’s cousin, having been in trouble with the police. I initially brushed it off because my first thought when I think about introducing family members into the story is how it’s going to complicate things because even if they’re not involved in the plot, they become someone you have to think about when the teenage characters are doing whatever they’re doing, or at the very least they’re pieces that clutter up the scenery. That’s why parents are so often absent in MG/YA books, and the kids are frequently only children. But Grandma Roberts was insistent that there really was a Derek and I was not allowed to cut him out just for the sake of simplicity.

Fine, I thought, there’s a cousin Derek who seems to have some trouble with the law.

And then – several plot pieces fell into place: click! click! click!

The moral of the story: listen to your elders, they know what they’re talking about. And be open to changing your course while you’re writing.


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