Working on The Bennet Brother, our Reader’s Choice story, has me thinking about the choices we make in plot twists. I’ve already read the chapter you’ll be getting this week (it’s brilliant), and I’m not giving anything away by saying that Diana Birchall sends the plot in a direction I wouldn’t have thought of. Not that it’s so terribly radical, just different, and it made me think about how I sometimes end up limiting plot choices without realizing I’m doing it.
Writers tend to divide themselves into plotters and pantsters. The plotters outline their plot scene by scene before ever sitting down to write, while the pantsters have a general idea of where they’re going, but fly by the seat of their pants on how to get there. I’m a hybrid. I start each book with a plot outline, and then pitch it out the window halfway through when the characters start demanding to do something different. I’ve learned over the years that it’s important to listen to the characters because they know the story better than I do. But that leads to plot dilemmas.
I first came to grips with this problem in 2002 when I was writing Impulse & Initiative, which was later retitled To Conquer Mr. Darcy. I was posting it online chapter by chapter as I wrote it, and the characters of Darcy and Elizabeth developed into an explosive combination, enough so that when I reached one particular kissing scene, I realized the characters as written wouldn’t stop at kisses as the plot outline demanded. I’d never written an intimate scene before and had a lot of trepidation about the idea. Okay, you can stop laughing now! It really did scare me to death. In fact, my first draft of a love-making scene was one paragraph with four sentences. Oops.
The issue was also complicated because I was posting it on two online boards, one of which required stories to be PG. Lots of readers at that site were already invested in the story, and it seemed unfair to just leave it unfinished for them. So I did the silliest thing possible – I decided to write two versions, one with the intimate scene, and one where they stop with kissing. I had it plotted out so that within two chapters, the two plotlines would converge again, and there would be only one ending. Of course, that one decision point led the characters to develop in different ways, and it ended up being two stories which were identical for the first third of the book, then diverged. I learned my lesson and never tried that again! As an example of how confusing that was, here are the four different covers it was published under:
Unfortunately, my newest story already has three different pathways, and once again I’m stumped for what to do. As I neared the end of the first draft, I realized that what I had was an entire book of Darcy and Elizabeth sniping at each other, then a quick resolution where they suddenly recognize that they belong together. It didn’t feel very satisfying. I tried adding a major complication where Darcy becomes engaged to another woman. Now, don’t go blaming the man, he was forced into it by the villain of the piece! That led to some amazingly dramatic scenes, but now what I had was half a book of sniping, then half a book of serious angst with a quick resolution, etc. Better, but still not there. Now I’m working on what would happen if they had the quick resolution halfway through, and then Darcy gets forced into the engagement. We’ll see how that turns out!
Oh, yes – a few readers are going to make an appearance in this book, and one could still be you! For anyone who donates $100 or more to the Kickstarter campaign for Angie Kroll’s Austen Admirers app, you’ll get a cameo appearance and mention in the acknowledgements of one of my books, plus a plethora of other rewards, like a signed copy of Kara Louise’s upcoming book Pirates & Prejudice, a total of 9 ebooks from Marilyn Brant, Maria Grace, Sally Smith O’Rourke and Nancy Kelley, a year’s membership to JASNA, and more.
So what happens to all the endings I end up cutting out? For this book, I’ll be posting them for you on The Writers Block. With the alternative version of Impulse & Initiative/To Conquer Mr. Darcy, also known as The Rule of Reason*, I eventually found a way to use part of it by excerpting a section as a short story and including it in my anthology A Pemberley Medley. And for what happens in The Bennet Brother… you’ll have to wait ’till Wednesday to find out!