My father once told me that in JRR Tolkien’s writings he talks about the creation of Strider, describing how the hobbits entered a room in the inn and ‘there was a man behind the door, and I did not know who he was’. Aragorn, the human around whom a huge part of the Lord of the Rings story revolves, was introduced as a random throw-in and evolved from there. (I’m not sure how apocryphal this might be, since I also know perfectly well that Strider partly evolved from the character of Trotter in earlier drafts, a roaming hobbit who was considered weird for wearing shoes. But this is not the point.)
Most of the time I have a hard time imagining how this could be – I know vastly more about my characters than will even appear in this story; how could I possibly include someone who has no plan at all? And then it happens and it happens and it feels electric. Then I’ve got my heroine and her friend watching a street circus and I decide to have a mime vault in over the juggler’s shoulders, catch a torch, and put it out with a magical puff of breeze. I flipflop for a moment over whether this mime should be male or female, consider revising an earlier reference, and settle on male. Then I realise that even the throwaway bit of magic is vitally important, because by my rules that will make him immune to the villain’s control later on. No sense not using that bit, so let’s have him form some kind of connection with one of the characters. Haldis? Are all of her friends dudes? No, let’s link him to the doctor. Actually… let’s make him smitten with the doctor. And he’s a mime – in fact, what if he actually is mute? Ooh, and I’ve established that he’s from the same country as the visiting noblewoman; how about their aristocracy developed hand-sign to communicate silently in a formal setting and it’s been adopted by deaf/mute people? And his name will be… Simon? Théo. Do I really want to type that alt-code every time*? Well, better than letting people pronounce it ‘Theo’. Yes.
I wanted a mime to douse a torch in an impressive way and I ended up worldbuilding, giving Lukas a new romantic interest, and having another fun bantering scene (to the best of a mime’s ability to banter) before the attempted mind control and fallback to attempted murder. It was a good weekend.
I still can’t imagine what it’s like for people who start NaNoWriMo with zero planning. Do they feel like this all the time?
*I actually kind of like alt-codes. There’s no real justification for this; I just do. It’s like a special move, inputting a sequence of taps to unleash a spectacular and strange technique upon the page. “é” is the Hadouken of word processing.