I’ll Most Likely Kill You In The Morning

One of my favorite parts of “The Princess Bride” happens about 10 minutes in, where Columbo is reading the story to Kevin Arnold, and Robin Wright Penn is treading eel-infested waters in the middle of the ocean. Columbo, being the lovable but sometimes befuddled man that he is, accidentally picks up at a passage he has already read, and Kevin has to interrupt him and tell him to skip ahead to where they left off.
In a moment of written or directorial genius, the camera cuts back to Robin Wright, still treading water in the ocean, and she gives an almost imperceptible sideward glance of impatience, as if hoping Columbo will hurry up and decide her fate. (3:05 if you’re feeling nostalgic)
This image was burned so strongly in my mind as a child that it’s stuck with me until today. I’m writing my novel on a story that has been floating around in my head for years, and I hastily threw together its outline on October 31st, the night before NaNoWriMo started. I soon realized I had bitten off WAY more than I could chew, and when you have a story floating around in your head for several years, it actually mutates into two or three stories. So I went through and RE-revised my outline, as I was tearing my hair out by the time I got to the halfway point because my characters were too busy making meaningful relationships with one another, and not having nearly enough sword fights, death, and plot advancement. And I wasn’t even 1/6 into my plotted course.
So what was to be the climactic ending of “Act I” ended up being the actual ending of my NaNoWriMo novel, for this year at least. When I finally came to the conclusion that, yes, I was allowed to do that, there was much rejoicing and hair-leaving-in, and I could focus more on my silly characters’ feelings and scenery — stuff that sometimes bores me to tears in novels, but that I now realize is essential to the world building that makes stories so rich in my mind. Who knew?
Anyway, now I’m at the point where my outline is so precise, I have it broken into the gist of each of the final chapters, rather than the general “this happens for a while until this happens at some point.” I take a few moments each day to go over where I left off in the last chapter and where I want to go in the new one, and it’s always the same thing. I picture my characters where I last left them, and as I’m brainstorming — in the shower, or on a walk around the neighborhood — they’re always waiting patiently for me to decide their fate.
I can see them, sitting under that tree, where they had to spend the night, and they’re tossing an apple around as I throw suggestions at them. When I happen upon a really good one, it’s like a row of dominoes, and my characters jump to action, everything progressing as it should to the chapter’s climax. More often than not, though, I come up with a ridiculously stupid idea, and even while I’m grasping at ways to make it work, trying to sell my characters on it, I can always see them there, not really wanting to break the fourth wall, but kind of glancing over at me, out of the corners of their eyes, Jim-Halpert style, wondering if I’m really going to try and get them to do that.
So yeah. I guess that’s how I write. Is this weird?

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