I consider myself primarily a plotter. I usually have a good idea how a story is going to begin and end and a good concept of what will happen in the middle to get from that beginning to the end. That said, I also know I could also be called a pantser since I like to let my characters dictate what’s going to happen within those scenes and sometimes from scene to scene.
Back in May, I started the fourth book in the P.J. Benson Mystery series with an outline which indicated the beginning and the ending and the major steps to get from first scene to last. By the first of June, I had an opening scene. The time of the year: March. P.J. is nine months pregnant. She’s standing in her living room, looking out her front window, watching her husband and stepson playing catch. It’s (and I said this on the first page) a Norman Rockwell image.
From that initial scene, I worked on for a couple thousand words to the first indication there might be a problem that P.J. would have to solve. Characters were introduced or re-introduced and I had a start to the book. Except my start stalled. By the first of December I had expanded that first scene to a little more than five thousand words, but no farther. Every time I sat down to write, I found a reason to do something else. I couldn’t get excited about the story. Something just didn’t feel right.
And then P.J. stepped in.
I was in that hazy, dream-state of sleep just before you wake up, and I see P.J. walk into a bathroom. P.J. hears a woman on the other side of a stall talking (on a cell phone) to someone about the danger she is in. Then the woman comes out of the stall, sees P.J., and comes close. She drops something into P.J.’s purse.
I woke up after that, but I would swear P.J. told me that was how the story should start. And she was right. My original opening scene was lovely (as I said, a Norman Rockwell scene), but slow and definitely not a hook.
The story now starts the moment P.J. steps into a bathroom, and I’m eager to discover what the woman dropped in P.J.’s purse and what danger that poses for P.J.. I haven’t tossed the original plot, I just need to figure out how to weave this aspect into the story.
If we create characters we truly know, we need to listen to what they have to say (or show us).
Have any of you ever run into something like this? Or am I completely crazy.