Two new characters showed up and said they decided to be in my short story

Yogi Berra once said, (and I’m paraphrasing rather than looking it up) If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.

I’ve inserted this clip art to make the post look easier to read.

This is the case when I write. I just read in the latest issue of Poets & Writers Magazine that author Richard Powers creates what amounts to a huge outline and treatise before he begins writing a novel. Far be it from me to criticize his approach because whatever he’s doing is resulting in great work.

Yet it gives me the willies. It reminds me of the research papers we did in high school where we had to turn in our note cards and outlines along with the papers. I always prepared that crap after I was done with the paper because none of it helped me write the paper. It doesn’t help me write stories now.

I think that I would miss a lot of opportunities if I created a synopsis and outline before I wrote anything. Just yesterday, I was writing with no roadmap and two new characters showed up. With my usual tact, I said, “who the hell are you?”

The ghost, whose name is Slappy, said who he is is none of my business and that I’ll discover whatever I need to know as the story unfolds. Shauna was more politically correct. Referring to my muse, she said, “Siobhan sent me. I’m supposed to play the role of a graduate student on an internship at the haunted theatre in your story.” I guessed that Slappy was there to help out with the haunting.

So far, they’ve worked out well. But, if I’d had an outline, my receptionist Gypsy Rose Lee would have turned them away at the front door. The story wouldn’t have been as much fun to write, and none of my adoring readers would have said, “How do you think up characters like this?” I would lie–because that’s what writers are expected to do–and say “my imagination.” In reality, I don’t think them up. They show up.

If you’re a planner, my approach will drive you insane. It might have already driven me insane though, typically, I’ll be the last to know. Meanwhile, I like surprises. They make writing a story as much fun as reading a story because I never know what’s going to happen next.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Florida Folk Magic Stories,” a collection of my three magical realism novels, “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” Eulalie and Washerwoman,” and “Lena.”