My Books

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Writing Bits: Angry Socks

This should probably actually be titled, “The Place of Randomness in Your Writing.” But being a post about randomness, I felt it ought to have a random title. I spent the last two posts explaining why you needed to be ordered and detailed; this is more about the other side of a book. There is a place for the unplanned. Or perhaps it would be better to say the unplanned can manage to find a place, and it makes a book better when it appears.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been stuck, staring at my page, thinking “I know where I am supposed to get too, but I have no idea how to get my characters there.” Trust me, all the plotting in the world is going to still leave you hanging sometimes, wondering how to get from plot-point A to plot-point B. And you sit and stare. And take a sip of your coffee, and stare some more. And then you do one of two things; you either go check your facebook and give up on writing for the day, or you add in something random. You just start typing. Your characters are already at plot-point A, you know where plot-point B comes in, so just start typing with B in mind and see what happens. Often something strange will pop up. Something totally unexpected and unplanned. It might be a wonderful new character you had never envisioned, like a love-sick goat, or it might be an event that revolutionizes your book and gives it a zing and sizzle you had never imagined.

I remember one year I was at one of these places and completely stuck. So I sat my fingers on the keyboard and started typing, waiting to see what would come out. “Boom!” was the first word that came to mind. So I had an explosion, naturally. It turned out it fitted quite nicely and got some decent silly parts into the tale, as well as some unplanned excitement that was needed to keep the interest up. There have been other times where I came back after the book was written and reread my random just-typed-to-get-from-A-to-B parts and deleted almost the entire bit as nonsense that didn’t fit in with anything. But, it still served to get me from A to B and to keep me writing. Remember, especially if you are writing for National Novel Writer’s Month, this is a rough draft of your book. You have to get the whole book written before you can make it better. What you write now does not have to stand for all eternity. It has to stand long enough for you to finish the book. Then you come back and edit it, and turn all those rough parts you didn’t really love into something you can gloat over. Randomness can have a beautiful and extremely entertaining place in getting that rough draft finished.

That is one major way randomness can have a use, in getting us to just keep writing. But it has more than one use. Stop for just a moment and think about instances in books that have made you laugh. Some are puns, sometimes it’s ridiculous situations, sometimes clever comebacks; and sometimes it is a random comment that has no place in the story. Randomness can be hilarious. Use that moment when you are completely stuck on what to do, let it add a bit of humor to your book. Let something strange and unexpected happen. Let the love-sick goat rush out into the midst of your character’s camp and stir things up, or a drunk hobo add in a comical song or two. You might find the unplanned part is just the part you love the best, and the part your readers love the best.  

“But… but… if it is totally random it will ruin my plot and carefully constructed characters!” I hear the authors out there objecting. Possibly. But that really isn’t too much of a concern at this point. If when you reread your book your random parts wreak havoc with the tale, delete the scene and put in a carefully constructed piece that speaks peace to your author’s heart. But remember it still served to get you past that bump you hit in chapter 3 and kept you moving to the end, so don’t complain about the randomness too much. But in my experience the random bits give the book a sense of liveliness that is at once humorous, enjoyable, and impossible to plan. And there is a natural reason that liveliness pops in.

Stop thinking about books for a moment and think about life. Every day brings something unexpected, unplanned, and random. Maybe the car doesn’t start when you get in it to go to work. Maybe it’s the cat bringing you in a bird as a present, which when released immediately flaps into your rafters and refuses to come down. Maybe it’s an unexpected letter from a friend, or news of momentous import that you never would have guessed. Whatever it is, there is always something. You can never get up in the morning and have the day exactly as you want it. This is a fact of life. Outside influences jump in and just… mess up all those complicated plans. I stopped keeping a schedule several years ago because the frustration of something else consistently coming up during my scheduled business just wreaked havoc on my good moods. It can drive you crazy! But oftener then we like to admit, if you let them, the messes can turn out to be the memories that delight your soul for the rest of your life. The random, annoying, frustrating things that push us out of our planned day into something else always make for the best stories. And the best novels are the ones that seem like real life. “Truth is stranger than fiction” it is said, and it is very true; which means a little strangeness in your fiction makes it seem more true. If you can never fully plan your life, why should your characters be able to fully plan theirs? Just because something pops into your stories that you didn’t envision when plotting doesn’t qualify that thing as bad. It only qualifies it as unexpected. Use it. Embrace the randomness. Make your characters learn to adapt to the random, and they will seem more real for it.

Randomness is a tool in the writer’s belt with many uses. It can be a ladder that helps you surmount the bumps from point A to point B, it can be a conveyer of laughter and a spark of lighthearted fun, and it can be that missing ingredient that pushes your book into imitating reality. And while you’re teaching your characters to adapt to the randomness of their life, take the lesson to heart and enjoy those interjected random moments in your own life. Mr. G.K Chesterton understood the lesson when he said, “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered.” 

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