You Never Know... The Unpredictable Factor

Saturday, October 05, 2019
Okay, here's a tidbit about my routine (not than anyone is rabidly chasing down information about Sioux even mildly interested in me): on Sundays I love to watch the show CBS Sunday Morning. The stories inspire me. They enlighten me. They nudge me into reflecting.

This past Sunday was no exception. I watched a story on Lonnie Bunch III (the Secretary of the Smithsonian). He began the National Museum of African American History and Culture with a staff of 2 and no collections.

He started with virtually nothing. Now, it's a gem of our country... and 70% of their artifacts came from people's basements and attics.

I also watched a story about Marlene Rose, a glass artist. She uses a method of casting glass pieces in sand--which many glass studios weren't willing to accommodate--and explained how unpredictable glass is.

Showing off one large piece, adorned by splashes of orange, yellow and red, she said that it was only supposed to be red.

"What did you think when you saw the finished piece ?" the interviewer asked. It obviously was not what she envisioned, not what she planned on.

Marlene Rose said she jumped up and down, thrilled with the result.

When you write, you begin with nothing (just like Lonnie Bunch III began with nothing). Nothing's on paper, but certainly (hopefully) there's a kernel of an idea in the writer's head. If the writer's lucky, there's a whole outline tucked into the recesses of their brain.

My current WIP--the manuscript I'm frothing-at-the-mouth to get published--began with a historical event. I created a family of five, secure in the knowledge that the family would survive.

They'd survive the event--of course. No doubt about it. I didn't even think that some of them might not survive the revising process.

As I slogged through the sludge of my first draft, my second draft, and so on, the unpredictable factor reared its head up, over and over.

Where will the family hide? In my first draft, the family didn't hide. They got out of their house and headed out of their neighborhood. However, I got my manuscript professionally edited (an eternal thank you to Margo Dill) and it was apparent I needed more tension. Hiding somewhere, while you're being hunted like an animal? That could add some necessary excitement. I had to decide on where the family hid, a place where they conceivably not be found. Again, the spot came to me in an unplanned way.

How will the family escape to a safe place? In my second draft, I completely changed what happened to the family.

What is in Mama's bag? When the family leaves their home, the mother has a cloth bag in her hand. Despite their life-and-death journey, she always held onto it. She never showed anyone what was in the bag... until the end. I didn't even know what was in the bag until that point. More unpredictability.

So, as a writer, celebrate what you know. Celebrate all the details you know about your characters, and revel in all you've fleshed out in your plot... but don't forget to embrace the surprises, the details that come hurtling at you at unplanned times.

Learn to love the unpredictable.

Sioux Roslawski is a novelist wannabe. She's also a middle school teacher, and is working on a second manuscript (not much headway being made on that project lately). Keep your fingers crossed for her that sometime--soon--a publisher offers Sioux a contract.


Nicole Pyles said...

I love unpredictability in writing! I'm working on a flash fiction piece that got changed because I received feedback from many people that the ending was unsatisfying. So I rewrote it and realized.... Something else needs to happen. It's about a woman on break from work and as she goes back.... Something interrupts her. Unpredictable aspects of writing is always so fun. You never know what will come forth!

Margo Dill said...

As always I will say I am a big fan of you and your writing. I am also always excited when it is your day to blog as you have some real piece of knowledge for all of us. Thank you for the shout out.

I also will say that this happened to me JUST TODAY! (Also I will say I have so many novel ideas and no time to write them all in a lifespan). But something I have been wanting to write, loosely based on some women friends I have, has been running around in my mind for sometime now--but I couldn't think of how these 6 women could all come together in the story. Book clubs have been done. Quilting. Knitting. But today, it came to me! In a text message of all things.

So this post is spot on for me.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

I always worry that outlining will rob a piece of this WOW, these surprises. Hmm. And yet you had surprises show up several drafts down the line. Definitely something I needed to hear. Thank you!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Nicole--I'd love to read that flash fiction story. You have my curiosity piqued. What interrupted her? I MUST know. ;)

Margo--I'm curious about the backdrop of these women. What did you choose?

Sue--For me, the surprises came because I tried to immerse myself in my characters. What would the boy's room look like? That helped me find a hiding place for the family. What things did the mother treasure? THAT helped me decide what was in her bag.

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