Writing my characters was one of the things about this project that was almost as fun as it was infuriating. I’d written three full length novels and a number of short stories prior to drafting this manuscript, and never before did I meet a bunch of fictional people so obstinate and unruly as the cast of this book. For figments of my imagination, they had very little interest in keeping to my outline or following my so-called rules.
I’m a combination plotter and pantser. (In case you’re not up on the lingo, a pantser is a writer who “flies by the seat of their pants” while writing—in other words, they don’t outline or plan ahead.) I do outline, but lightly—I build a kind of scaffolding for my story, with plot points and character arcs, but don’t go so far as to outline scene-by-scene. Too much outlining suffocates my inspirational impulse; too little outlining and I’m at sea without a landmark to guide me.
But with this story, I probably shouldn’t have even bothered with an outline at all, because my characters smashed it to pieces every chance they got. As I mentioned before, my main character Sylvie more or less stole this story from another girl, inserting herself smack dab into the middle of the narrative with barely a by your leave and then changing half the plot to suit her. Another character later in the book (I won’t say who) was supposed to be a villain, but had other ideas. Someone else refused to fall in love with the person I’d intended for them.
I chose this scene particularly because Thibo was the most outrageous of all. He wasn’t even supposed to be a character in the book! I had actually outlined this scene prior to writing it—originally, Sylvie was supposed to meet a totally different character and have a very different conversation. When Thibo came sauntering across the Esplanade—dressed to the nines and ready to charm the pants off just about anyone—I literally stopped typing and said, out loud, “Who the heck is that?” And I swear, he turned to me, raised a perfectly groomed eyebrow, and said “Do you really think I wore this hat just to be a background character?”
My writing process can sometimes feel slapdash, even to me—I outline here and pants there and hope it all turns out all right. But times like these I’m reminded just why I give myself so much space to be spontaneous—it’s so my characters can misbehave, equivocate, and sometimes even crash the party.