by Janis Patterson
I’ll admit it – I am a pantser. A sort-of pantser. I don’t do detailed outlines or character charts or anything like that. I do work by a method I call the Suspension Bridge school of writing. You know what a suspension bridge looks like – several tall towers and webbing in between supporting a platform. That’s how I construct a story – I know where the story starts, and approximately where it ends, and a couple of major plot points along the way. Then it’s simply a matter of spinning the webwork in between.
Or at least, that’s the way it’s supposed to be, but the sneaky Idea Fairy seldom lets it happen.
The Idea Fairy is notorious for coming in when you’re chugging happily along with a plot that is pretty much set, however sketchily, and then gleefully turning things upside down. You think you know where you’re going, that all you add is the little details, then suddenly… BOOM!
Case in point, my Egyptian set mystery A KILLING AT EL KAB. I was certain of my major characters and the major points of the plot and was writing along happily. I needed a point from outside the scene brought in, so I created a character who was supposed to come in (for a good, plot-consistent reason) and then vanish. Except the Idea Fairy got her fingers in and almost before I knew what was happening this character had moved in and was not only perilously close to becoming a major character, but had a romance with one of the most unexpected of minor characters. I had to hold tight to my storyline with clawed fingers to keep him from completely taking over.
On the plus side, he did tie a bunch of disparate facts together, facts I had been struggling to round up and put forth without sliding into the deus ex machina trap, so I guess the Idea Fairy was on my side that time.
Another example is from my mystery BEADED TO DEATH, in which a man and a woman absolutely hate each other. One is my sleuth’s best friend, while the other is doing whatever possible to put my sleuth in jail. It’s in the last third of the book when my sleuth is talking to one of them who happens to mention in passing, “Oh, that must have happened after we were divorced.”
Until the minute I typed that I had no idea that these two characters had ever been married, or even knew each other outside of business, but that startling revelation made a lot of things fall into place for me. Once again the Idea Fairy was good.
Sometimes the little beastie isn’t, though – sometimes when I’m working along quite happily on one story she pops up with an inundation of ideas about what she purports to be a new direction, but which in reality is a completely new story with different characters. Worse that than, they’re good – so good the Idea Fairy won’t let me rest until I stop and at least note down the bare bones. Which, of course, makes it the harder to go back to the story I’ve been writing, on which she is suddenly and uncharacteristically silent. However… I know she will come back, usually with a whole new bag of tricks. Which is okay. As a very famous writer once said “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.” Whoever he was (the attribution varies), he was right.