I’ve always heard some authors say that they don’t plan out their novels. That they instead create their characters and their worlds, and then they write what happens to them…as it happens. That the story tells itself, and they just happen to put it on paper.
Until very recently, I thought that was a load of hokum.
I had never had anything like that happen. My fiction was generally planned out, and I had to think about every word the characters said, every action they took, and every last detail about the world they lived in.
And then last week, all of a sudden, I had my novel’s first “Aha!” moment when I felt I was no longer a creator but a chronicler of this story.
It Just Kind of…Happened
And there they were, three of my main characters, finishing up a conversation, and setting off to a meeting in the middle of a set of ruins they were exploring. I thought the chapter had ended, and I was wrapping it up so I could move back to the other half of the story.
And then it happened. The ground under my main character’s feet gave way, and I saw him plummeting into a hole while his companions had reflex enough to barely jump out of the way.
Now, I know that my protagonist is not dead because I know what happens to him at the end of this book. But I had no plans for him to fall in a hole, but once it happened, I saw the next few chapters and how they play out, and it honestly makes much more sense now that he’s fallen through the weakened ground.
It was like a lightbulb went off in my mind with this idea. I really feel that I had no control over what was happening to these characters.
I could see the characters walking along and the ground giving way, and I had to write it down. Not because I wanted the story to play out like that but because the story had to play out like that. There was no choice. That’s how it happened. No authorial intent in the ‘verse was going to stop that from happening.
I know now the author is not God, not all knowing, seeing, or powerful within the universe of the novel. The author is more like the yearbook staff, just making sure that every picture is on the right page and lined up right so the full story gets told and nothing gets left out.
A Learning Experience
Another thing I hear published authors say all the time is that their first novel is a learning experience. That the lessons they learn in their crappy first novel allow them to write the fantastic second one.
I have no doubt that after subsequent revisions this novel is going to be pretty good and saleable. Because I am going to keep looking for “Aha!” Moments like this and running with them. Because I am going to go back and work very hard on the beginning of my novel so that it coincides with the lessons I’ve learned at the end, such as seeing if my micromanagement took the story somewhere it didn’t need to go.
And when I’m done with that, I’m going to send my novel to a round of beta readers and let the manuscript and their comments sit for around 6 months (until Christmas break, I expect) before I come back for more editing and revision. And when those are done, and I can finally get my perfectionist, self-loathing hands to let go of it for just a moment…I’ll send queries out to agents.
And then I am going to start a second, unrelated novel (I do have plans for this to be the beginning of a series, or at least a duo) and apply all the things I learned during the process of writing my first one.
While this “Aha!” Moment is certainly not the first lesson I’ve learned while working on this project, I have to admit that it’s the first one that made me feel like a real author.
Have any of you ever had “Aha!” Moments that took you by surprise?