Flying Monkeys? Yep, I’ve got ’em. I never for a moment anticipated their arrival in my novel in progress; didn’t prepare with some sort of ‘Monkey Be Gone’ powder, or set flying monkey traps to contain the evil little beggars.  They have fangs and talons and batlike wings, and they are here to stay.

If I chose, I could call in an exterminator. My internal editor is good at that sort of thing. I’m pretty sure, given the go ahead, she could eliminate those monkeys and create order out of chaos before I could type another page worth of words.

But here’s the thing: somebody invited those monkeys, and it wasn’t me.  One of the characters in this tale has taken on enough life of her own to say, “Hey, I need flying monkeys” and call them into existence. Who am I to argue with this? Looking back, I realize that I did not invite the dragons either. In fact, if I’m being strictly honest with myself, most of this book was not my idea.

I am a listener. Not always a good one, but I think that is really my job. Not to try to shape the story, but to allow it to shape itself. To let the ideas and the voices in my head come alive on the page,  give them words in which they can live and move and have their being.

Once the characters have manifested myself, then it’s my job to say to Character A – “I think you need to meet Character B.” From there it may be love at first sight or open warfare, but that is not my decision. If the characters have been allowed to become self determining, they will have definite opinions about each other, and will insist on taking action. They create messes and clean them up.

Okay, I admit that I occasionally throw stink bombs in their direction to see what they will do. But even those nasty little surprises often come from somewhere outside of myself. Call it the subconscious, call it what you will. I know myself: my every day brain just isn’t that creative. Every now and then I’ll write something, and when I read it ask myself, “now where in the hell did that come from?”

I may never know. But I do know that this is one of the reasons why I continue to write. I love the way the surprises create themselves on the page: the character flaw I never knew about, the plot twist that I never saw coming, the dagger that appears spontaneously on page 100 and becomes centrally important to my character’s survival on page 256. And yes, the flying monkeys called into being at the end of the 4th draft.

For those of you who are plotters and planners – is it the same process for you, only in a different way or do you have better eyes and ears and catch all this before you start writing?