Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Expect the Unexpected

Okay, as advice goes, let’s face it, that’s pretty sucky. How can you prepare yourself for the unforeseeable? If we knew when the unexpected would be putting in an appearance, we wouldn’t have an insurance industry.

However, “expect the unexpected” is the unofficial motto of us writers who consider ourselves pantsers. When we sit our butts down in front of the keyboard, half the time we don’t know what the hell’s going to happen. We’re a mass of literary Flying Wallendas, inching our way across a vast chasm on a slender wire buffeted by wind gusts and hoping like hell we make it to the other side intact. Plotters stop and build a bridge, but that approach won’t work for us. We’re constantly flinging ourselves into the abyss in the hopes there’ll be a net down there when we hit the bottom. We also mix our metaphors a lot.

This often results in a lot of abandoned stories, as that rich vein of imagination that looked so promising peters out after a couple of chapters and leaves us staring at the bare rock of a blank page. (I did warn you about the metaphors.) On the other hand, we suffer less from boredom because, like the reader, we have no idea what’s coming up, and won’t know what happens until we get there.

This is why I write: to find out what happens. A lot of times I know what happens, but not how the story gets from Point A to Point B. That’s the unexpected part.

Case in point: I’m fiddling around with that “slave romance” I started a couple weeks back. At the time I figured it would be a romp, a comedy involving a sexy, rich, but shrewd woman and the “slaves” she buys striving to outwit each other while enjoying frequent, steamy sex. Then the unexpected reared its unforeseen head, in the form of a bad guy, a would-be suiter after the woman’s money. He’s going to cause horrendous problems for our heroine, and her devoted boys will have to rescue her. Assuming she doesn’t rescue herself; her personality’s already shaping up that way. Meanwhile, not only is one of the male characters going off in an entirely different direction, but I think he may be black, or at least dark-skinned. I don’t know where the hell that came from. Call it my efforts at unplanned diversity.

This has happened before. I grew up white, female, and middle class, so when I write that’s my default position. In my mind, my characters are white. Except when they’re not. Let me revise that. My characters start out white. They may not stay that way. Another story I was fiddling around with involved a M/M/M ménage. I was fairly sure all three men were Caucasian. One’s a blue-eyed blond, for God’s sake. Then I read over a description I’d written and realized one of them was black. Oops. Fortunately, both of these stories are science fiction and set on alien worlds, so my glaring lack of knowledge about the black experience won’t be a hindrance. I can write them as people, which is what we’re supposed to do with our characters, though sometimes political correctness gets in the way.

I hadn’t meant to put that lesbian raccoon shifter into the one story either. Her large family came as a double surprise. As far as I know, the rest of them are straight. Although I could be wrong.

So many times the “unexpected” turns out to be sequels. One thing leads to another and another and before I know it, my short story has turned into a generational family saga. This is one unexpected consequence I’ve actually come to expect because I know how my brain works. It runs to sequels and spinoffs. In fact, I’m more surprised when my stories don’t lead to a series. I really should be writing screenplays.

And now here we are at the end of the blog. I’m sure you were expecting it, just not quite so soon. Surprise!


Savanna Kougar said...

A most excellent blog about our life as pantsers, or semi-pantsers. And, yes, my muse always comes up with an ongoing story, and spinoffs... if only I could keep up... but, nope.

Like you say too, I don't have enough knowledge about the black experience, despite having a lot of good experiential contact in my college years, to write a black character as a heroine or hero.

But then, as an aside... as a once upon a time [the 90s timeframe], devoted viewer of Oprah... now that she's playing on the global elite's dark side against humanity... well, a villainess comes to mind. 'Course, only gawd knows, how mind-controlled she is... if she is??? ~very sad sighs~

Pat C. said...

I'd be leery of making a person of color a bad guy, because of the political correctness I talked about. I had a friend who wrote a post-apocalyptic book set in Central/South America. The bad guys, understandably, had Spanish names. My friend was accused of writing "stereotypical Hispanics" because the men acted "macho." No, they acted like guys. Some editor saw the Spanish names and panicked over possible accusations of racism. If she'd made the guys white, there wouldn't have been a stink. Then people would complain there's not enough diversity in the books we write. You can't win.

I've had black secondary characters in a couple of my books, but I don't point them out. The clues are there; good hunting. I'm just going to write people, and let the reader (and whatever baggage the reader's toting) decide what ethnicity they are.

Savanna Kougar said...

Yeah, the political correctness bugaboo... you can't win. No, I wouldn't write the character as a villain in some sort of paranormal contemporary, or even located on Earth proper.

Yeah, I have an 'on the good side' black secondary character in Branded by the Texans. Given I like all ethnic peoples, I like to include them whenever it fits the story dynamics. But it's a tricky-dicky world with some just waiting to get you for something or other.