Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Unexpected Story

Stories come to writers in unexpected ways. We spend a lot of time observing our surroundings, jotting down snippets of conversations, and noting unusual people and situations, and then we write a scene taken partially from these observations and dredged partially from our imaginations. We don’t know what we’ve written until we read the scene. When we read it, we sometimes (often) find that the words don’t express precisely what we’d intended to say. So we change one word, and then another, and, slowly, the scene takes shape. But, what’s this? The scene now leads the story in a whole new direction! The story we thought we were writing is not the one we’re now writing. 

Sometimes a writer will adjust a setting to fit a new plot element, and this can also lead to wholly unexpected outcomes. Say we need our character to make a quilt to auction at the county fair. We add a sewing room onto the house. Quietly, a character suggests that the sewing room might once have been a nursery. “Is this true?” the writer asks (somewhat shocked, somewhat annoyed). “Yes,” the character says. “I can’t believe you didn’t know that.” The writer, then, must dutifully supply the character with a present and a future to address that hidden past. Our characters will let us know if we get it wrong. The stubborn ones remain silent for days, making us guess at the error. The outspoken ones talk so fast we have to race to keep up. Again, the story we thought we were writing is not the one we’re now writing. 

The events in my novel, HER SISTER'S SHADOW, are fictional, presented to me, in part, by the characters, as I sat them in a room together and let them talk, and, in part, from my imagination, as I wandered the hallways of their childhood home, where my characters reunite after a forty-year estrangement. I invented doorways and opened them to see what lay behind; pictured a dressing table and started sifting through the clutter, surprised at what lay hidden. 

I hope you enjoy reading HER SISTER'S SHADOW as much as I enjoyed writing it. And, please, let me hear from you! 

(Adapted from my guest post on the blog, Pudgy Penguin Perusals.)

1 comment:

  1. Kathy,
    We missed you at our collective 60th birthday party in St. Thomas this past weekend. Dick Gist was with us and he sends his best.
    Are you coming to San Francisco or the bay area on a book tour?
    Acey Gilbert