Abandon control? That sounds rather oxymoronic. I mean, aren't we, the writers, supposed to be in control of our story? Aren't we supposed to hold the reigns, veering our characters and plot to the left, the right, pulling back if they get too far off course? That sounds right. But is it?
I'm at a place in my writing where I could easily tell myself what I'm going to do next. I mean, the books are written. The query letter is in the works. I should be able to just pick and choose what I do next right? Right?
The reason being: the story I think I should be writing and the story that wants to be written are two different things. I thought I was going to finish this trilogy and begin working on the novels that continue this tale. (What is this tale about exactly? Oh...I haven't told you! Silly me! It's a new take on the Atlantis legend centering around a seventeen year old girl from Savannah, Georgia and a mysterious necklace she find hiding amongst the seaweed. The further along we go, we discover all sorts of dark secrets. Sinister things are running amok in Atlantis and, as we shall soon discover, throughout the entire world!) I almost sat down and outlined it the other day. But...
I couldn't. I mean, I was perfectly capable of doing so. But something inside me wouldn't let me do it. Why? I need this story to be complete! After Atlantis, our characters venture further into the lands of myth. I really want to see what will happen to them! "Wait!" my heart was telling me. "There's something else you need to do first. Somewhere else you need to go."
So I went. I discovered the plot behind a first line I wrote five years ago, a line I loved but had yet to figure out where it belonged. I sat down and in the span of an hour, I wrote out the first chapter of this new story. It's another fantasy, set in the deep south with a parallel to another world. And yes, another dark and sinister realm of myth and folk tale. I like playing in that world. It's so very full of possibilities for enlightenment.
What does all this have to do with abandoning control? Simple. When we sit down to write (be it a continuing saga or a fresh, new story), we have our ideas, our outlines, our characters sketches. This is good. We need a form, a skeleton if you will, for our imaginations to cling to. Once we have that sketched out, we're ready to write. We sit down and begin to type. Then, quite suddenly, we see our characters doing things we didn't tell them to do. Plots begin to twist and turn, going down pathways we didn't construct. What is going on? We sit down to write one thing, but our hands begin typing another. Should we worry? Have we been taken over by sadistic plot changing aliens?
The best plan of attack for this is none. That's right. None. Follow that rabbit trail. See where it leads. It's not like you can't come back on track if it ends up at a dead end. A lot of times, rabbit trails help to get your mind off the problems you're having and let you steer your way through and around them in ways you would never have planned to do.
Madeleine L'Engle said that often, our characters know more than we do. I agree. My trilogy is a case study in having a well thought out plan and having it uprooted, turned on it's head, and looking nothing like it originally did. But you know what? I like it. In fact, I love it. It works. It's not as stiff as the original version. Everything fits.
What of this new story I'm writing? I would add to Mrs. L'Engle's wisdom by saying our hearts often know more than we do. If you feel the urge to take your story in a strange and different directions, do it. If your current work is stale and you're itching to wander down a leaf covered path, barely visible in the sun dappled forest, go for it. Wander. Collect wildflowers along the way. Keep your eyes open. You could get the breakthrough your current novel needs. Or you may find yourself caught up in another story entirely. Don't be afraid to deviate. The best adventures are not the ones we plan but the ones we are given.