I’m one of those writers who doesn’t really know what she wants to say until she says it. I don’t do a lot of planning before I start fiction projects. I might have a vague idea of the ending, but I don’t know the steps it will take to get to that point, or even if that ending will be what I eventually land on.
Apparently, Jo Rowling planned Harry Potter for seven years before she started writing it. It definitely worked for her.
For me, I make friends with a few characters and then I toss them into a situation together to see what they’ll do.
Listen, I know it’s kind of a trendy thing for authors to say that they are surprised by what their characters do, but I’ll be honest with you: it’s the truth. I am sometimes shocked at what happens when I sit down at the laptop to write. I won’t let my characters have the final say; I get that, as the author … but they usually know what they’re doing, and I’m usually humble enough to listen.
When I sat down to write my current work-in-progress, all I knew was that it featured three teenagers and one of them wasn’t sure if reality was really reality. The first thing that happened when I started writing was that this blind, elderly man named Gordon suddenly started speaking. I had no idea where he came from, had not planned or prepared for him … but there he was. And he ended up being an important character in the story.
C.S. Lewis had the image of a faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood in his head. He wrote, “At first I had very little idea how the story would go. Then suddenly Aslan came bounding into it. I think I had been having a good many dreams about lions about that time. Apart from that I don’t know where the Lion came from or why he came. But once he was there he pulled the whole story together, and soon He pulled the six other Narnian stories in after him.”
Likewise, Lewis said that the stories weren’t originally intended to be Christian allegory. “At first there wasn’t even anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord.”
This happens to me while I write. I won’t know what a character should do or say … and then I just write it. My fingers just fly across the keyboard, and I, Jackie, at home on my couch, am marveling at this truth that I tripped over.
Where do these things come from?
I think I know.