- by Barbara Meyers
Lots of authors write without plotting first, which is what I do. I’ve survived so far, but it’s a lot of work, especially if you decide to start writing in a genre you’ve never written in before and you have no idea what you’re doing. Such was the case when I began writing The Forbidden Bean, the first book in a fantasy series called Grinding Reality.
After working for a worldwide coffee chain for several years I thought I could use my experience there for more than creating a perfect caramel macchiato.
By consuming a magic coffee bean, most of the main character’s thinking, rational self goes with her when she is temporarily transformed into the body of something else. The rest of her is left behind in her human state blindly operating on auto-pilot. She starts out small in the first book, when she is zapped into the bodies of various insects without warning. (Did you ever want to be a fly on a wall?)
She learns all kinds of information she’d rather not know which sets her on a reluctant superhero path as she pursues a ragtag gang of Eastern European criminals and sees justice done to a serial killer.
Consider a writer who doesn’t plot, writing in a new genre, writing the first book in a series (she’s never written a series before, either) and who has no idea where the story is going until she gets to the end. That was the story of my life the entire time I worked on The Forbidden Bean.
Now I’ve started the second in the series (Cool Beans) and Tee has moved up in the world, temporarily embodying small reptiles or amphibians. She starts out as a tree frog and learns some unsettling things about her only sibling.
I had an idea for a scene where she becomes a Southern Black Racer. During her time in the body of the snake she’s outside a warehouse witnessing some nefarious transactions when a male snake starts to put the moves on her. I thought this would be not only believable but hilarious, as she’s thinking snake rape! the entire time while trying to elude his advances.
I ran into a wall because I literally had nowhere for her to go to escape the amorous intentions of her slithering admirer. I seemed to have got myself stuck on what happened next. Eventually the light bulb over my head came on. If she transforms back into her human body, the snake will leave her alone.
Except now she’s stranded in the middle of nowhere (initially face-down in mud and weeds) near a warehouse which may or may not have criminals inside who wouldn’t notice a snake in the grass but will definitely detect her human presence. She escaped the snake mating ritual, but now what happens?
I’ve thought no further ahead than my character. Now I have to figure out how her body got to where she was instead of her thinking, rational self returning to her body wherever it was, which is what has always happened before. Oops!
“Push your character out on a limb and then saw the limb off” is good advice, but I’m pretty sure the author isn’t meant to follow the character out on that limb. I’ve thrown so many balls up in the air, created so many possibilities, so much potential for what can happen in this series even I’m having a hard time keeping track of it.
It’s one thing to fly by the seat of your pants when you’re writing, but in this case, I’m not sure I’m even wearing any pants.