Thursday, July 03, 2008

My Characters Have Trashed my Outline!

Last week, I talked about outlining the plot. So naturally, this week, my characters tossed the plot progression to the winds. In this case, instead of reading about a murder in the newspaper, they discovered the body themselves, and instead of having a starlette-style hissy fit and becoming the spunky sidekick, Heather got herself kidnapped and ended up the damsel in distress! In all, a 10,000-word re-direct at least and some plot complications, not to mention a lot of un-funny prose. So today, I'll talk about going with the flow.

"Seat of the pants" is my natural writing style. I start with an idea or a character that grabs me. If I only have a character, I try to imagine their life--usually some interesting episode--you, know, one that physically or psychologically tortures them, bwa-ha-ha-ha. Often times, I'll have the middle--aka, the height of suffering--pretty firmly in mind, but I try to have the beginning and ending.

This is how I came up with Vern. DragonMoon Press had opened submissions for the anthology Firestorm of Dragons, and I was looking for something that hadn't been done: a cynical dragon PI on the wrong side of the Interdimensional Gap working off a geas by the Faerie Mage, St. George. (I'll tell you more some other time.) From there, I just needed a clichéd simple case gone wrong for him to solve. (DragonEye, PI is out in Firestorm of Dragons.)

Of course, once I have characters I love, they tend to start living out their lives in the dark recesses of my mind. Throughout the day and night, they tell me a little about their lives or share a joke or comment with me. Vern does this a lot because, as you know from his blog, he has a very unique and sarcastic but funny way of looking at things. So when I'm ready to write a story, I come up with an idea or crisis, stick them in it and let them tell me how they get out of it. This works very well with Vern and Grace, because I can pull from old mysteries and legends, mix them up and let them tell me how to solve the case. Essentially, they live it out, and I just transcribe.

In the case of Live and Let Fly, the idea came to me first--a very general idea of pitting Vern against the clichés of superspydom and evil overlordisms. As you know (or would if you'd read last Thursday's post), I thought it very important to plot this one out to make sure I got the clues and clichés in place. Part of that was for Vern and Grace to read about the murder of Professor William Gates (Gay-TEZ, no relation to the Mundane computer entrepreneur). Heather, Charlie's assistant, insisted on accompanying Charlie, where she would use her computer skills to break into the evil overlord's computers for valuable clues. Nice, neat, plenty of room for jokes.

But Vern and Grace are not used to dancing to my tune. Even worse, I hadn't banked on Heather not being as plucky (and amenable to espionage) as I'd expected. So it was with some surprise that Vern and Grace decided to go visit Professor Gates and discover his dead body. Then Heather, in a cliché out of the storybooks, gets kidnapped.

But it gets worse! One of the things playing in the back of my mind has been Faerie's past. Since their universe parallels ours, I imagined they'd had a Great War sometime in the early 20th century; however, since Faerie is a much more religious world, I knew it would be a Satan vs. the Church, of which Vern and Grace were agents of the Inquisition. Now and then, they give me tidbits of that time, which you'll read in the stories. I've also had this vague plan that something bigger than what we see in the books is going on behind the scenes.

What this has led to is that Gates (no relation) has been assassinated with crucis iugolis--the butcher's cross--a favorite killing method of Satan's minions during the Great War.

I didn't plan this. It just came out of my fingers, seriously.

So the characters have shanghaied the plot, and I've spent the last week (about 12,000 words since it was a busy week) trying to figure my way out of it. That means scrapping some jokes, plunging into Charlie's dark side, revisiting Grace's Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and dealing with new questions of jurisdiction.

Why do I put up with this? Because it's much more interesting when my characters tell me what happens than when I make them dance to my tune. The book will have more depth and if not as funny, it's more interesting. However, they've promised me a few fun, new scenes if I can just plug away at the serious stuff a few more thousand words.

Word Count to date: 20, 557, some of which are notes of things to fix.

Fave Phrase: Duke Galen's Herald, Charlie, talks to Heather's kidnappers. I like it because he showed me a side of himself different from the usual happy-go-lucky popinjay stuck making the best of inheriting the family job he doesn’t much like.

"I want to speak to Heather!"

A brief shuffling, then "Charlie! Charlie, I'm in a--" Her sentence ended in a shriek.

"If you harm one hair on her head, you bloody bastard--"

"Sticks and stones--"

"If that's what it takes."

"Tsk, tsk, Herald Wilmot. How very unbecoming of someone of your stature. But to be honest, I have no intention of hurting your beloved. I'm a big fan, actually. I do hope I can coax her out of an autograph. In the meantime, you have information I want."

"No, I don't," Charlie replied, and he didn't have to fake the desperation in his voice. "I'm just the courier. I didn't even know I was carrying anything--"

Laughter. "Quite droll, Mr. Wilmot. As a matter of a fact, I believe you. Your duke's twisted humor is well known even here. I also know he fancies your pretty little girlfriend. You have two hours--"

"Two?" Charlie burst out. "To convince Galen of anything? Better make it twenty-four if you want this precious information of yours."

"You'd bargain with your true love's life?"

"If it means having a real chance of succeeding, bloody hell, yes! Otherwise, just tell me where you are, so I can go die with her."

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