Some writers work out what's going to happen in a story before they write it. They plan, in more or less detail, and then follow the plan, near enough. I'm in awe of them - I can't do that. I have a general idea of the sort of thing that is going to happen, and a clear idea of when and where the story will happen. Then as I research the when/where, interesting things will pop up and in they go. This means the story is as much a surprise to me as to anyone. Of course, there's a lot of rewriting to do. The first time through - well, it's all a bit of a splurge.
The book I'm writing at the moment is even more of a splurge. For a good reason I won't bore you with, I decided to write the whole first draft in eleven days just before the London Book Fair. Consequently, it's a very rough draft. But on the third day, quite a big thing happened which I hadn't been expecting at all. A character walked into the very limited space (it's highly claustrophobic, most of the action taking place in one room) and committed a terrible act. Once he'd done it, the whole thing was a lot more complicated. For one thing, that act is going to present a real gatekeeper problem - but I can't unwrite it now. It came as a surprise to everyone - to me, the two main characters, and I think even the perpetrator himself. Good grief, you can't leave your characters alone for five minutes without them doing something awful. But it's absolutely what would happen. I don't know why I didn't see it coming.
Everything after that act is tainted now. Nothing can ever be the same again. Even if I threw away the scene and wrote something else, its stain would still be on the book. It would remain a ghost event - I would know it was once there, and there would be a hole in the book, a hole where every reader would (I think) be wondering why something awful didn't happen, given the vulnerability of the characters at that point. So it has to stay. It's none of my doing. Don't blame me for that act, I just wrote it down; I didn't want it to happen.
Before day 3, I had no idea how to get to the end of the book, or even quite what the end was going to be. But now this act leads to a death and some errors of judgment, and they lead to the greatest catastrophe possible. I knew the larger catastrophe was going to happen, but I didn't really know why. But now I do. It's rather like the rhyme in which the lack of a nail for a horseshoe costs the whole kingdom; and it's just how real life is. The biggest things start with the tiniest acts. Why did the First World War happen? Because Archduke Ferdinand's driver took a different route through Sarajevo. OK, that's a simplification - but things would have been different if...History is riveted together by these tiny incidents that have unforeseen and unforeseeable consequences.
It's as though I had been wandering up and down one bank of a river, looking across at the other side, knowing I had to get there but with no bridge or boat in sight. And there, a bit further on, was the bridge. But there was a troll under it. One big, fat, hairy, greedy, lethal troll. No matter - every bridge needs its troll. At least I now have a bridge.
Do others have examples of totally unexpected incidents writing themselves and turning out to be hingepins of the plot? How do you explain it? Is it your subconscious working overtime? Or is it more like seeding a cloud - it's all there waiting to fall out, but needs a tiny push to make it happen?
My most recent collection of unforeseen events is the Vampire Dawn series, published by Ransom Publishing in April 2012.
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