You probably heard of or read the poem by Robert Frost of “The Road Not Taken.” It is sweet poetry and one most of us heard in school. My take is a little different. Any road traveled leads to the unknown. You can never predict what you’ll find around the next curve, or down that little lane through the trees.
It’s the unpredictable, the unknown, that helps drive the story and develop the character. As the author, you should have some idea of what is going to happen in the story. There is a purpose and reason behind the writing, after all. Right? But, sometimes you must let things surprise even you.
In Sudden Mission and Nasty Leftovers, I allowed the story and the characters to surprise me as I wrote. As the characters moved through the United States in the first book, and Washington, D.C. in the second, I had an idea about what they would find or do in the end. But I didn’t have a complete, detailed plan for how the characters would get to that end, or what they would meet on the way.
One mantra I use as I write is “what could go wrong now?” That usually brings surprises.
Turn down an unknown road, take a new route–that’s where the adventure begins. The unpredictable, the unknown awaits beyond that next curve. You’ll find it down that tree-lined lane, or over that next hill. The drive to seek adventure is part of what makes us human. Characters we create for our stories are no less prone to taking that unpredictable turn, or finding that tree-lined lane irresistible. They will roll on the throttle and charge into the twisting curves of a new road with the same enthusiasm we have in the same situation. They seek adventure with wild abandon.
When your character finds the adventure–that’s when the story gets interesting. That’s when you drag the reader kicking and screaming into a fight against a horde of zombies. Or, encounter aliens for the first time, and your character isn’t sure if they are friendly or not.
Not everyone is open to adventure. Some are afraid of the unknown. Sometimes, that is all thrust upon them anyway. That tree-lined lane holds terror and horror for them. But, they must go down that lane and they must face that horror. This is a trope you find in horror movies and novels. The young babysitter hears a noise at the door. She approaches and the audience or reader shouts, “Don’t open the door!” But it is in our nature to open that door. Take that new road. Charge ahead. We can’t help it.
Sweet dreams, and …