Riffing today on a blog post by Beth Kephart in which she says, "It is possible to write nearly an entire novel and not know precisely who that mysterious character is until the last late night before the novel is due."
Those of us who write intuitively
will find all sorts of themes, symbols, subplots, and characters
creeping into our work. Sometimes they go nowhere and get cut out.
(Sometimes they wander off the page by themselves. I'll realize I
haven't mentioned the brother in 100 pages and don't miss him.) Other
times, we find beautiful uses for them. They tie up loose ends, solve
problems that we didn't even realize they could.
In The Secret Year,
I gave my character an older brother during the first draft. I had no
specific purpose in mind for the brother and thought he might get cut
out later. Instead, he showed up for Thanksgiving dinner with a subplot
that was relevant to the theme of secrecy, and he hung around to guide
the main character through the book's main crisis. (Nice work, fictional
brother! Glad I didn't whack you after all.) I had no idea he was going
to do any of that until I was actually writing the scenes in question.
The draft of Try Not to Breathe
ended much earlier than the finished book does now. But I had a nagging
feeling that the ending wasn't big enough. I looked back to the book's
beginning for a clue. That waterfall, I thought. There must be a reason the book starts at the waterfall. There must be a reason the characters keep going back there.
It was only when I focused on the waterfall that I uncovered a secret
about it and understood its true role in the story. The interesting
thing was that when I went back into the story to seed a few clues about
this secret, I found I didn't have to add much. Most of the clues were
already there, unconsciously planted.
Everything in a story
should have a purpose. If we can't identify the purpose, there are two
options. One is to delete the thing. But the other is to look harder at
what its purpose might be, to see if there are invisible connections
that can be brought to the surface.