Working in my vegetable garden the other day, I contemplated how my mother-in-law recently told me that growing vegetables most successfully relies on passion for tending to the garden. I enjoy gardening, but passion for it? This I do not have. I could use this and the whole idea of nurturing seedlings as my metaphor for writing, but you know what? Whatever, we all get how that whole idea works without me pretending like there is some new way of looking at that.
Instead, the metaphor that came to me was one that compared my own writing – and perhaps yours – to the rooting of helicopter seeds. You know, those seeds that flutter to the ground in the way helicopter propellers spin. If you have a maple tree or similar in your yard, then you also know that “literally” thousands of these fall from the branches each spring. Plenty of them make their way to my garden and they root and sprout easily and rapidly. Fortunately, they are equally easy to yank once they have sprouted, but for the first time in the 5 years that I have kept this garden, I decided to clear the seeds before they could root and grow. An auspicious start for me.
So, the thing is, some of the seeds had just begun to root and they way they did so surprised me. Looking at a helicopter seed, there is the weighted part where the actual seed is and then there is the extended rotor. I had always assumed that the seed would root in, but in fact, the rotors do – and in clusters. And because my fictional world resides with me at all times, this observation led me to an unexpected link to my characters in their words and actions. Though it does not happen to all writers, I know I’m not at all alone when I talk about my characters saying things that I do not expect. My husband asks how this can be if I am, indeed, the one writing the dialogue, but I know many of you out there understand precisely this phenomenon. I almost always love it because my characters know themselves better than I do, right?
So, the obvious analogy is that how helicopter seeds root surprised me is like how my characters surprise me, but really, that’s not that profound of a comparison is it? No, it really, really isn’t. That blasé metaphor simply presented itself to me before I expanded upon the idea – which makes weeding and collecting the prolific seeds go much more pleasantly, by the way. The seeds did not cluster and root everywhere they landed, but did so randomly. Not all took root, yet. Characters do not always surprise me, because my husband is correct, after all, I have actually created these characters. But when they do, they do so organically in that they have found the way to express themselves best. I’m quite willing to bet that if I planted a helicopter seed with the seed end down, it would root and grow. But nature boasts the best way.
So when my characters surprise me, I usually let them. Their conversations develop organically. However, sometimes they need a bit of gardening. I remember my main character in my work-in-progress revealing a detail about herself within a conversation that seemed to fit and a part of me really wanted to keep that detail where it was. However, I knew that it was illogical to believe she would have revealed that bit about herself so early and I transplanted it.
So, at the risk of overusing this metaphor… nature may dictate the logical rooting and growth of it’s progeny, but sometimes, we give the vegetables a chance, and lead the future maple trees elsewhere.
Of course, sometimes that means the compost bin. But that’s a whole ‘nother metaphor.