My sister found this graphic in her Facebook feed, and sent it to me. I’d told her that. I’ve often felt as if my life ricocheted from one disaster to another, but looking at the second graph made me feel as if it was a masterpiece of contingency planning! 😉
Then it occurred to me that the same set of graphs can be used for people in the Parallel Universe: the people about whose lives we write stories.
One of the requirements of fiction is that it be plausible. If it’s not plausible for a real human life to proceed in a perfectly planned direction, it’s not plausible for a fictional life to do so, either.
I never planned anything that went into Irish Firebrands. I just watched and listened with amusement, astonishment, puzzlement, disbelief, dismay and grief as my characters moved through Life’s Great Adventure, while I wrote down everything they did and said, and all that happened to them.
Usually, I felt like a reporter, not a like writer who was creating, inventing or imagining what was going on. Sometimes I even felt as if I were writing an “as told to” book, or that I was a ghost writer recruited by the characters to take dictation, and then write their story for them.
As discussed in my post “Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Block? (Part 1)“, it’s this kind of convoluted character life path that can be a factor in much of the frustration writers often report with the writing process, and even in the manifestation of writer’s block. Rather than let their characters mosey along, making their own unreliable choices, some writers expend excess mental energy on trying to ride herd on their imaginary friends, as if they had a deadline to reach the railhead at Dodge. The exhaustion of trying to force characters along a plotted path can end up making these writers feel like the specters in the old “western” song, Ghost Riders in the Sky.
If you’ve always been a “planner,” but have been suffering with rebellious characters or writer’s block, try following your characters around instead of trying to lead or drive them along a predetermined path. If you don’t like the term “pantser,” because to some it suggests a lack of skill or discipline, then call it reporting, or even ghost writing: after all, it’s life in the Parallel Universe we’re talking about, and there, as here, life just happens.
It’s less work and more fun to let fiction write itself: Embrace the unexpected! 🙂