Some fiction writers don’t know at the beginning of a story where the point-of-view character will land. If they are of my ilk, they often don’t care. When they do, as sometimes I do, I wonder how many know the landing even when their POV character is far down the road. And do they know many of the twists and turns before they get around the next turn? If they have some idea of these matters, some have decided not to rely on them. I have.
Sometimes the landing place holds special importance to the impulse that demands the writer’s attention. That happens to me sometimes, but in the spirit of unfettered discovery I try not to hold onto the desired destination. Seeing one in front of me may help me avoid straying too far afield, but holding on can become a straitjacket. It’s better for me to think of it as being a good parent to myself, giving myself reasonable boundaries. If the limits are too tight, I limit necessary freedom.
Let’s say that I am traveling the part of my story’s arc that I know, and I begin to think I know the desired ending and the rest of the path to get there. If the conclusion is important to me, I may get it pretty close to right, but there is always something on the path to surprise me and urge me in a different direction. If I can just let go, much fun in store for me. Some frustration, too, for sure, but I try to leave most of that up to the governor. I try to restrain him until a later draft, and even then.
How curious are you about how writers handle this? When you are captivated by a story, do you find yourself trying to guess the outcome? How often are you right? If you are right about the story’s arc at every turn, what does that do to your level of interest?
An example might ground our conversation in something “real.” In “Highway 47,” one of the longest pieces in Filling Up In Cumby And Other Stories, Grey, the POV character, finds himself faced with the possible fulfillment of a fantasy. He feels both compulsion and guilt: an anonymous affair, a violation of his marital vows. Alas, another of the moral boundary situations I gravitate to! That is all I knew when I put him alone and hungry in a car on a long trip. He was approaching Adrian’s Diner just before a blizzard was about to start. He was reflecting on the home and wife he wasn’t ready to return to. How was I to make his getting stuck there with Adrian feel realistic? I had no idea. Nor did I know that Adrian would have a six-year-old boy who never had a father. When I discovered that, the story turned from shallow fantasy to the important underlying needs. Of course, I’ve not told you what happens with Adrian or her son. I didn’t know that until Grey, Adrian, and Trajan told me.
As the first reader, over-planning gets in the way of my enjoyment of the organic growth of my story. My characters tell me everything they want me to know, and at the right time. That’s how I like it. What makes a good read for you?