“The greatest thing you can do is surprise yourself” ~ Steve Martin

By: Peter

Can you believe it – Willow has been holding out on me. I am not sure if I am mad or not.

I started writing my novel in Lesson Nine and so far, as of the writing of this Blog, I have written a little over 10,000 words and nearly completed Chapter 4 (to give you an idea this Blog post is 940 words) . Well at least the First Draft. And even though there will still be tons of work to do after I complete the First Draft (which I hope to complete by early Fall), I am still really psych’ed.

I started Lesson Ten which was all about surprises. Especially how to surprise yourself as you are writing. I mean, if I am surprised with some of the things that I end up writing in my novel, then chances are my Readers may also be surprised. And if I do it right, that would be a good thing.

So how do you surprise yourself? Not too difficult on the surface, but it can be pretty tough to execute. It has to do with writing various sentences and then asking yourself what-if. Then see where that leads you. See, sounds simple enough…doesn’t it? Wrong!

As it turns out I didn’t really invest too much time in this Lesson as I already do a good job of surprising myself without too much trouble. It is kind of sad really :-(  because I don’t know a lot of what is going to happen in my novel — it just happens. I have been trying to do this in a semi-controlled way so that while I surprise myself, I won’t go off on a couple of chapter rabbit trail and then find out I don’t know how to get myself back.

Now why am I a little ticked with Willow. I had planned out what was going to happen in the four chapters I have been writing, but Willow had other ideas. In the middle of Chapter 3 I wrote the beginning of a paragraph and the next thing I know I am off writing a 900 word Flashback. Here is what got me going:

Shaman Bat-Uul was late to the banquet and as he walked past them to his seat she[Protagonist] gasped and suddenly could feel the stew coming back up in her throat. She turned away to face Cassandra and took a couple of deep breaths to keep her food down. The essence was the same, she couldn’t be mistaken. She would never forget how it felt as the assassin pulled her next to his body and the pungent scent that covered his clothing. It reminded her of incense, nutty, but bitter. She was only nine at the time…

It was really kool, but TOTALLY unexpected. It really brought something to the story. The other thing it did was to make Chapter 3 so long I had to break it into two separate chapters (Chapters 3 & 4).

“I knew it was coming all along”, Ms. KnowItAll chimes in.

“Well it would have been nice to know ahead of time so I could have planned for it.”

What  a look I get. “If I had told you it was coming you would have wanted to analyze it, debate it, and most likely over plan it to death.”

“Not so!” I hate it when she is right.

“Wait to you see what I am thinking about in a couple of chapters from now,” she winks then twirls her hair with a sinister smile.

I couldn’t write this book without her, but I keep wondering what it would be like to try. Ahhh, dreams.

She wanders over to her favorite chair and gently settles in, her eyes close while I plop myself down to do some more research. When you are writing a story about a time period you don’t know a lot about, you have to do a LOT of research. I love reading stories with people riding around on horses, waving swords, and doing all sorts of heroic things in an epic setting. Throw in a little magic and romance, and I am hooked. So naturally I wanted to write in the genre I enjoy reading. But it helps to know things like how far a horse can travel in a day at a gallop or a trot or if hauling a wagon. And that is an easy one.

I tried to invent a language (actually did a clinic on it), but gave up. I have way too much problem with speakin Enlash.  But to make it realistic I still have to research quite a few items, even if I am making up my own world. For instance I had to define what the magic was in my world and how it worked. Was there any religion? If so, what was it like and how did it impact the culture? I had to make a decision on how close I was going to stick to the historical Medieval time-period vs just steal a few things here and there. And this was just a tiny bit of what I have had to do in addition to actually writing the novel. How many soldiers do you need to storm a castle? And what sort of powers should a Brownie have (not a little six to eight year old Girl Scout or one of my wife’s favorite deserts, but a magical creature)? And there is SOOOO much more I need to research and interpret or create anew.

So back to the internet. “And yes Willow, to do research for the novel. What else would I be doing?”

She just smiles her eyes still closed.


3 Responses to ““The greatest thing you can do is surprise yourself” ~ Steve Martin”

  1. Kirsten says:

    If you think an unexpected flashback is a surprise, just wait, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! Discovering what your characters really wanted you to write is part of the fun of novel writing. :) Or that could me just me …

    Anyway, great work on that flashback–it read quite smoothly to me.

  2. Great stuff, Peter! I am always amazed to find what suprises me most in life is accomplishing something I thought I could never do! That rush is like a drug and spurs us on to even greater achievements. You should be psyched! You’re cookin’, Dude!

  3. Good progress.. I love it when my characters surprise me with unexpected turns and twists… they are the best part of writing…

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