When your writing evolves, it doesn’t evolve with an announcement.
You’ll notice that, out of my stories on this blog, none of them are romances. Only a few of these stories contain romantic elements. There are a couple of reasons for this. Most of those reasons are excuses. Here’s the real reason: I don’t have much of a love life. Maybe someday soon, but right now (and for the past 5 years) I’m too focused on writing to give myself time for that.
I knew even less back in 2010, when I wrote my “first” completed play (I’m not counting “Zesty on Weirdo Island,” because I was 9). The adults in LATTE (La Grange Area Teen Theater Ensemble) took an interest in helping my amateur creation grow. In fact, after auditions for that fall season, both my director and a visiting actor stayed behind to discuss my script with me.
There was a lot they liked, and a lot they didn’t like. As personal as this script was to me, I knew I had to keep cool if this work were to see the light of stage. So I took the criticism in stride, jotting notes on what to fix, defending my work without striking back at the critiquers.
My director, during this conversation, said, “So let’s discuss the love triangle.”
I said, “Love triangle?”
We all looked at each other.
I laughed first. It was a nervous laugh, a bit too hysterical, but the other two joined in. “I didn’t write no love triangle!” I insisted.
My former director may deny this, but let me be up front. The secret love triangle in my first play bemused me more than anything else. I did plan a character to carry a masked affection for another… and these were two completely different characters. I didn’t mind finding a love triangle; I just didn’t care to expand on it in future drafts. Obligatory mention to “Death of the Author” here. And also, though it’s great when your characters surprise you, it’s still a surprise. So don’t hold anything fragile when talking to your reviewers.
Here I am, six and a half years later. Here’s how far I’ve traveled. I created at 15-page outline for my current novel project, Two Candidates Walk Into A Bar, before even writing the first page. I’ve mapped out the plot. I have specific inspirations for my characters. I’m juggling several different plot threads while drafting. And yet it was only, after the tenth re-read of the first chapter, that I looked at these two best friends in a comedy club both striving for a better life, and realized: “This is the gayest thing I’ve ever read!”
No insult there, fellow readers! Without intending it, I put a tension between Henry and Amal that they could solve with a hot date and a heart-to-heart. I wouldn’t label either one as “gay,” however. Henry’s bi. Amal’s in an iron closet buried a hundred feet under the sea. Neither of them developed the way I planned, and I’m happy for them. More so than letting characters surprise you, you have to accommodate to their surprises. This new revelation will affect future chapters… though, wonderfully, I can’t tell you how yet. I’ll keep to surprising myself for now.
I’ll leave this story with an anecdote, told by a former poetry professor. You know how, on occasion, someone will submit gibberish to a poetry magazine? Then they’ll have it accepted, and reveal that they sent in the doggerel as a prank? One such magazine got “fooled” by this kind of satirist. But the editors decided to stand behind the joke poem anyway. Their reasoning: “The English language is smarter than you.”
Keep that in mind when you write: the English language is smarter than you. Give it some of the mental load. Let it serve as a remind that you need to go out and meet more girls. Or guys. Sometimes you’ll write something totally gay by mistake… not that there’s anything wrong with that.
So what was your favorite surprise about your own novel?