The other day, while waiting for Younger Son at yet another destination from which I had to pick him up, I found myself trying to come up with good names for horses. You may be wondering, is she thinking about acquiring a horse? Gracious no! I need horse names for the new book I’m trying to write. My male protagonist lives on a ranch and has horses. The horses need names.
Now before I go further, let me explain, for those non-writers out there, that there are basically two different types of fiction writers. There are those who outline everything and know exactly where the story is going before they sit down to write the first sentence. Then there are the others of us, called “Pantsers,” because we write “by the seat of our pants.” When I start to write fiction, I have a very loose (make that very, very loose) idea of where the story may go. In other words, I have an opening scene (or opening line) and maybe a vague idea for the end. What happens after my opening scene? I don’t really have a clue, which is why my characters sometimes run amok and take me to places I hadn’t planned on going.
Take my horse names for example. I came up with a list off the top of my head and wrote them down on a scrap of paper I found in my purse. (Writers often write things down on scraps of paper that later make no sense when we try to figure out why we wrote it down.) Later that afternoon, when I sat down to write, I picked two names for the horses the male protagonist (MP) and female protagonist (FP) were going to ride that day. When the MP told the FP the horses’ names, she said, “I take it there is a story behind the names.” What? Why did she have to say that? I had no story behind the horses’ names other than I thought they sounded good. Great. Now I had to figure out the story behind the horses’ names. Or tell the FP to shut up. But if she shuts up and there is no dialogue, the story won’t move forward and ever get to the end.
So, I had to stop and ponder whether I could make a backstory for the horses’ names or have to come up with other names that I could work into the story. More work for me because the FP shot off her mouth. Turns out, after Googling the first horse’s name, I could make the meaning of the name work with circumstances in the MP’s life history. Who knew, when I picked that particular name just because it sounded good, that it might actually be useful for anything else? With the second name, I made up a different scenario without having to Google anything. Good, now the MP and FP could get on with their day, and I could get on to writing the story, provided they didn’t veer off into left field again.
I remember in one scene, in a different book, I wrote that the MP was wakened abruptly. I wrote, “What had awakened him out of his sound sleep?” Then, I thought, “That’s a good question. What did wake him? Wish I knew. Guess I’ll have to think of something—” which took another several minutes out of my writing time that I hadn’t planned. In another scene, I wrote that a teenager had something on his parents to throw them so off guard they’d forget all about why they were upset with him. Wow! That’s great! What is it? I had no idea. Why didn’t the kid let me in on his secret?
Why do my characters keep doing this to me? If I were into the science fiction or horror genres, I could probably write some pretty creepy stories about my characters going rogue and taking over the book, leaving me in the dark. Surely, someone has already used this plot line. If not, feel free to borrow it, unless, of course, Twilight Zone steals it, in which case, I want full credit and royalties for the idea. But for right now, I’d just settle for my characters behaving themselves and not hanging me out to dry when all I want to do is finish my book.