My latest chapter has taken me longer than usual to write.
I had a road map. I knew where the story was going, more or less. But the words wouldn’t come. Or they’d come but they weren’t quite the ones I wanted. Something was missing.
I pondered this problem for a couple of hours last night over dinner, a crime novel, a puzzle, and the news from Iowa, and I arrived at an answer. Missing from the writing process was….
Literary discussion often refers to planners and pantsers, as if writers were one or other. It’s not a simple binary. (Is it ever?) I like a story plan, but I also like to keep myself open for a change of route.
And this chapter didn’t offer one. I moved along pre-planned lines. Kyle learned how to build a lean-to (captivating stuff, did you know that the right kind of square lashing begins with a clove hitch? You didn’t? Well, let me tell you…). As I wrote I was waiting for a chance to diverge, an aha (or oho) moment, a point where Kyle would take me and the chapter in a new direction.
Waiting for surprise.
Which didn’t show up until this morning, when - out of who knows where - I pictured camp staff singing a song of praise as they worked in the garden. The song was the kind where they spell words. The Bible behind our made-up religion is called Origins. Not much rhymes with origins, does it?
An hour later, I had my chapter and a new realization. Planning is good but surprise is necessary. I don’t like the idea of a change of route. I need it.