Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Letting it fly

 I am at about page 75 of my next Amanda Doucette novel, and I'm at the point where everything is burgeoning. The story is expanding, subplots are developing, the complications that are at the heart of every good story are piling on. In the life of a pantser writer, it's a fun time of no-holds-barred creativity. Let 'er rip, as they say, and worry about if and how all these ideas fit together later on. 

In normal times, this is the stage when I would be travelling around the locations, taking notes and photos, and talking to people to try to get the feel for the setting and the culture. These trips spark sidetracks, unexpected characters, and deeper subplots. In fact my flight to Vancouver island was already booked for May, and the car rented. But unfortunately these are not normal times and I had to pull the plug on the trip. I hope to be able to go in September, by which time the book will probably be about half finished. Not nearly as good for stumbling upon fortuitous ideas that enrich, maybe even alter, the story.

So I am creating the story entirely within my own head, with the pale help of maps, books, and the internet, and I will have to adjust it after the fact. Some of the most enjoyable aspects of flying by the seat of your pants are the characters you create (or meet) along the way. I typically start the novel with a very small cast of characters, and as the story evolves, I add characters as needed. Sometimes they are just meant to be walk-ons, but I find myself needing them more and more often, until suddenly they become an integral part of the plot. I usually try to make even my walk-ons interesting, so that the brief scenes that they are in can sparkle, but once I realize I am bringing them back for a few more encores, I start giving them a real identity. That's so much fun. Who are they? What was their past? What do they do with their time? What do they think of Amanda? Etc.

For example, upon arrival in Tofino, where much of the book is set, Amanda grabs lunch at a coffee shop, and we meet the middle-aged, ex-hippie owner. But as Amanda has reason to go back to the coffee shop several times in the first 75 pages, I realize this character might play a more major part in the story. She is the keeper of the region's history, and its secrets. Another character who is evolving from a bit-player to a major one is the owner of the water taxi Amanda uses to get out to the islands. Who knows, I may even make him a suspect!

Kaylee, an ongoing character (actually my dog Eva)

Some writers know all the characters who are going to be in their stories and write extensive character sketches of the important ones before they start to write. Since I don't know where the story is going and what characters I'm going to need, I get to know them only as I meet them in scenes. This has the advantage that I can mold them into what I need for the story. Does the character need an edgier side? Easy to develop that as I go along. In the case of the water taxi owner, what would be his motive and how can I hint at that?

It does mean that characters change, sometimes beyond recognition, but that's a worry for rewrites. For now, I am having fun playing with all the possibilities. Letting the story fly.

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