“No. Unless you’re going to tell me what this is, you don’t get to use my first name. It’s Head Guard if you’re going to just lie to me.”
– Mayr from A Question of Counsel
It’s funny, best laid plans and all. Or in this case, outlines and plotting.
I’ve recently started A Question of Counsel, a F/F romance fantasy novella with some bite. The idea came from a current collection call and my M/trans* romance fantasy novella, Rule Breaker, part of Less Than Three Press‘ Won’t Back Down anthology. There was something about the character of Aeley Dahe I really wanted to explore – mostly her attitude and strengths. She does what has to be done as a leader of her people in RB, having inherited the family problem. When I saw the submission call for “women who can find their own way out of trouble”, I thought it would be fun to find out more about Aeley. I like strong characters of all genders, so perfect. Then I discovered she has a thing for Lira, a quiet, feminine scribe. Relationship cinched.
The idea’s been brewing since late last year but I’ve only recently found the time to pen their story. It was an amazing feeling to be able to sit down and finally work out the official outline, scene by scene with all the major points and people. Then I started working on the manuscript, which didn’t come as easy. Where to start? There’s a count of about 12 scenes and I don’t always start with scene 1. After some staring at the blank screen and fiddling with my music player for just the right muse, I gave writing scene 1 a go.
Oh, the things you learn when your characters take over your brain.
In principle, the scene followed the outline. In character, things became much more interesting.
I know Aeley well enough to write her story, but she’s surprised me. For instance, she seems to be showing signs of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and sounds like she’s on her way to being an alcoholic because of it and her brother. She doesn’t want to be in the same room with him, even if he’s in chains. Can’t really blame her, though. He’s just not a nice guy.
As for Lira … well, I learned something about her too. She’s quiet, modest, doesn’t talk a lot – but she apparently has a very dirty mind.
It’s always the quiet ones! Maybe it’s her fault this one has sex in it.
Though the one that takes the cake is Mayr, Head of the Guard of the Dahe estate. I originally wrote him in to be Aeley’s post-dinner drinking buddy just to get her talking. Then I added him to the dinner because there’s a group of important people and he’s key keeping things locked down, so sure, he gets to eat.
That wasn’t enough for him. No, he had to try and hijack things. He demanded a larger part.
From even before they sit, his attitude pops out, Mr. Sit-and-sling-arm-over-chair like he’s in a bar with a bunch of soldiers just shooting the breeze instead of a nice dinner with a certain players in their politics and business. Then when Aeley leaves, the attitude comes out even more.
He also revised my notes. I originally wrote “she’s known him for several years when he was just starting as a soldier”. In the heat of a feisty match of words, Mayr decided that no, they knew each since they were kids and he knows her very well – BFF well.
Well. Who am I to argue? He’s going to show up later, now, which makes sense considering his role in her life and what’s going to happen …. NO spoilers!
In the end of all this, the first scene ended up in the same places but with a very different tone than I expected. But hey, I’m not complaining. This is how things roll.
Though I will say that if there’s any way to learn about your character, it’s just to let the words flow, regardless of what you expected to say. Planning is great to see how things fit together in the grand puzzle, but I wouldn’t say it’s absolutely everything. There’s something about letting the story unfold organically that can be magical, full of surprise and brilliant moments which may be lost if they’re over-constructed and micro-managed. I’m not one to plan every little thing. Sometimes I don’t even bother with a plan and I just go at it, usually with one or two ideas around “the scene has to achieve this”. Like conversations with people in real life, you can learn a lot if you let the discussion just flow and listen to what’s being said – at face value, behind the words, and then in the spaces between them.
Of course, that’s not to say things will change between now and the final, polished manuscript with all the editing that will happen. It will make going forward an interesting trip, though. What other surprises could possibly be in store down the rabbit hole?