Monday, September 6, 2010

Unexpected Detours

I admit I am a creature of routines. I write at certain times of the day. I know dinner has to be started at a certain time, school drop-offs and pick-ups are at certain times, etc. I've been like this since my children were tiny; when, I think, any sense of control made me feel just a bit saner.

But, irritatingly, the unexpected always happens. For the last few days, the unexpected has been our house internet has decided to become, shall we say, eccentric. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. It is being looked at (tomorrow) but until then, if I have to get on the net, I've got to leave the house. In fact, I'm writing this at a local coffee shop.

The unexpected happens when we're writing too - although, to my mind, this is usually a good thing. We get a character saying something we didn't expect which suddenly opens up new avenues of plot or sub-plots. Recently I had a character I'd always thought was shallow reveal his deep feelings of low self-esteem. This explained his actions and priorities on many different levels and saved him (for the moment) from the chopping block.

Detours in a plot are simply unexpected twists. For a mystery writer, this is a good thing. When I'm writing a first draft, I simply go with the flow and let the writing go where it will. It's during the first rereads that I discover (sometimes) that the twists actually go nowhere and serve no purpose or the twists aren't twists at all, but circles. There's also the delightful realizations that plot points I thought were unspeakably clever, are actually unspeakably stupid. But I digress...

The bottom line is, detours in writing can be good. Detours in life can be annoying. Or, just perhaps, they give you a chance to glimpse something new that you would never have seen while wearing your usual blinkers.


  1. Elspeth - You are so right about fictional detours. I've found a lot of good things happen when I go with the unexpected in my writing. In fact, it helped me a lot just recently. One of my characters didn't have any real purpose, and was about to be, well, you know... Anyway, all of a sudden I had a character detour and now, this particular person is playing a very central role in the story. I think if we're open to those writing detours, our work becomes fresher and stronger. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. I come across some of those unspeakably stupid plot points myself. I try to look at life's detours as opportunities. I don't often succeed at that, however.

  3. Margot; I swear those characters can tell the clock is ticking and do something clever in desperation to avoid the delete button. Bless them.

    Carol; Good for you for being able to see life's detours as opportunities. I admit I usually view them as irritations. I'm sure yours is the wiser approach. However, they can be a wonderful excuse for wine.

  4. Those detours in life seems to pop up at the worst time. But, you're right they are sometimes a good thing to let us see something that we wouldn't have otherwise. Happy Labor Day.

    Thoughts in Progress

  5. I kind of like the unexpected ... most of the time. Sometimes not so much. But surprises and twists can produce some awesome results!! :)

  6. It's so true. I hate detours but the are very helpful when I catch editing mistakes and turns.


  7. Sing it with me people "detour...there's a muddy road ahead...detour" A family favourite!
    I'm writing this on my sweet patootie's computer while he backs mine up. I'm having a HELL of a time on mine just like you Elspeth. I've been on wireless since I left my office upstairs (so our foreign student could have a room!). It is sooooo frustrating. So, I asked himself if I could borrow his to get caught up!
    I also let myself go crazy in the first draft - I let my characters have their will and mighty strange will it sometimes is. Now I'm still in revision and it will be the solstice before I get near untangled! I like it your dear character revealing to you the reasons for his personality - I love to find out just how far they'll go!

  8. Being forced out of out comfort zone can indeed be enlightening. I like it when the drtours show up in my writing. Often it can energize me for a whole writing session.

  9. I am the opposite of a creature of habit, so for me, detours are the norm, not an exception. But if I were a more organised person like you, I know it could be hell for me.

  10. Detours in life certainly can be annoying. I hate it most when I get sick and don't have the energy or brain power to write. Grrr!

  11. You might find that you become more agreeable to detours in your life once the kids grow up and leave home. They certainly are a big reason for maintaining a schedule.

    I love it when characters blossom on their own!

  12. Is there such a thing as a routine of detours? Since I don't plot very far in advance, I'm never sure if I'm detouring or on the main road. I just let things flow, and have faith in my subconscious. Whatever the path, I think we all get where we're going.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  13. Just when I was about to knock off today my detectives found a field of body parts. Where did they come from? We're off on a detour.


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