At lunch the other day, my dear friend Linda asked me how A Man for Annalee was going to end. "I'm not quite sure." Her head tilted to the side and she asked if Annalee would end up with the marshal. "Oh yea, she does"--and I could feel my forehead wrinkling as I thought of the marshal's brother, a possibility that's been niggling me from time to time--"at least I think so...yea...yea, she will." Evidently I didn't sound too convincing. Linda's eyebrows shot up, so I tried to explain. "Well, I have a general idea, but sometimes the characters take over." The corner of her mouth twitched as if she were trying to keep from laughing. "Characters do take over, you know." Now both corners of her mouth were twitching. "They say, 'no, I'm not doing that, I'm doing this instead and you can't stop me.' And they do that sometimes. They kind of run amuck in your mind." She flashed me a full-blown smile and asked if I heard voices, too. "Of course I hear voices! I hear the voices of the characters speaking to each other as I frantically write down their dialog. And, yes, sometimes they whisper to me that I've gotten off track on the plot of their story." Linda's eyes locked on mine and blinked a couple times. And I'm guessing she was evaluating the level of my sanity, no doubt finding me lacking.
Every writer plots his or her novel in a different way. This is one area where writing fiction is very different from writing non-fiction. Non-fiction involves an outline to organize all the facts the writer wants to present in a clear and concise manner. Industry buzz-words and themes are adhered to; there is a level of vocabulary used that's indicative of that profession (I call it geek speak: the terminology of scientists differs from the terminolgy of a scrapbook artist, for example).
Although a fiction writer needs to include some historical facts to frame the time and location of the story, for the most part, the writer creates and then tries to convey his or her creation so the reader can get a visual. Don't you love it when a story is so cleverly crafted that you can see the action, feel the tension. I strive continually to reach that point. It is a challenge.
Many fiction writers write outlines. Some jot down events they want to have happen in each chapter. Others. like me, fly by the seat of their pants. They have a vague idea where they want the story to go, but the progression of the story comes in fits and starts. My plot progression ideas seem to hit me in the shower or while I'm driving or as I vacuum. Some writers know how many chapters they will write. Yours truly has no clue. I know how the book will end, but getting to that point is as much a mystery to me as it is to you. There are a few events I want to have happen, but I've yet to decide on their order or the fall-out to all the characters from these events. The characters drive my stories--and they drive me.
In my western historical novel, Annalee has taken on a voice of her own. She is a combination of Lucy's zaniness in the sit-com, I Love Lucy and Molly's indominatable spirit in the play, The Unsinkable Molly Brown. I didn't intend for her to be quite the character she is, but she's revealed herself to me as I continue to write about her life. She is a spitfire and a stronger woman than even she imagines. Now it's up to me to show her strength. So, yes, I hear voices. But I am not nuts. Truly! They say there is a fine line between insanity and genius. Folks, I am neither a genius nor insane. Like Johnny Cash, I Walk the Line.