In writing, I have always started with a premise not a plan and watched my characters act within it. What they did was their own thing, pretty much independent of what I might think the plot should be, at least in the initial stages of discovering what the story was going to be. As author I was not an all-powerful, all-knowing determiner of outcome but an engaged watcher, delighter, and celebrant.
But characters and context can get curious-er and curious-er as the story goes on, or so you will see.
THE PERILS OF WRITING
Beyond any doubt in Clayton's mind, it must've been the kids.
Teenagers have no boundaries he thought, being somewhat proud of his proper use of the word boundaries. Clayton was a writer and took it upon himself to learn the proper psychological terms. This thing that had happened was proof. Not only did teenagers have no boundaries but his teenagers were no exception.
"The kids have been into my computer," Clayton told his wife. He hoped in making the comment so off-handedly that she would not try to get into it with him.
Gail read the tone of his voice to be this-really-bothers-me, but-I-don't-want-you-to-think-it-does.
"Oh?" Gail said. She spoke as if she hadn't really heard what he had said, only that he had started talking and then stopped right away, and that she didn't know what it was all about but maybe if she said something he would say something else, and if he did say something else then she would know what he was talking about and would know if she should be interested. Really, she wasn't that interested at all. She knew that he was accusing the kids of something and had no desire to get into a row about it.
Clayton left the room. Enough said.
Clayton's computer was in his studio. He sat there, cloaked in its blue haze. The words were straight in front of him just where he had left them.
Jocelyn had made her way resolutely toward the door. She turned to look at Dexter, then ducked her head and breathed out a rasping curse.
Dexter looked back, disappointment clouding his face, his lips perplexed. He pleaded with her, using only his eyes.
"Oh, give me a break." She watched him wither under the cruel attention of her gaze.
Clayton would have never had her say Give me a break to Dexter. By this point in the story she was to be falling in love with him. It was a matter of plot line. And that is how Clayton knew that his teenagers had been into the computer. They had found the story and decided to turn it in a new direction, to make a mock of him. Clayton hit the delete key to clear the space and re-write the passage.
Jocelyn had made her way resolutely toward the door. She turned to look at Dexter, her face softening under her sudden realization of what he had come to mean to her.
"Oh, Dexter," she sighed, "why don't you . . . just take a hike!?"
Clayton looked at the words in front of him. The words were not what he had typed. He went after it again.
"Oh, Dexter," she sighed, "Why don't you just take me with you?"
Clayton watched as the words take me with you were removed letter by letter with the words take a hike replacing them. Clayton typed in the proper words again, only to have them replaced, and again.
Confusion overtook Clayton, his hands drawn to the keyboard.
"You want me to take you on a hike?" Dexter asked, looking at Jocelyn in disbelief. Jocelyn was wearing at taffeta evening gown and high heeled shoes.
"I think I'm going to puke," she said indiscreetly.
Clayton blanched at the screen. This blew the theory of his teenagers fooling with his computer all to hell. Jocelyn, his own heroine Jocelyn, was doing it herself. He left the studio shaking his head while Jocelyn's vomit continued to rise in her throat.
"It must be a computer glitch," he said flatly to Gail.
"Oh?" she asked, fully aware that he had come up with some other cockamamie theory and that she shouldn't encourage him.
Clayton knew that Oh?, knew that it meant that she really didn't understand what he had said but that she didn't want to let on, that he should fill her in some more.
"It's just not registering what I type onto the keyboard. I'll have to have the technician look at it in the morning."
"Fine dear". Whew, she thought, he's stopped.
But the computer hadn't. Clayton went back to it, not willing to leave well enough alone. He had thought he would make like he was just going to go into the studio to shut the damn thing off, maybe look at the screen and do a bit of editing (if the keyboard might register properly again) and then call it a night. The screen was filling up with words before his eyes.
Dexter was carefully wiping the vomit off of his shoe, trying to catch sight of her as she fled the ballroom. He felt an overwhelming loathing of a woman who could vomit with such precision and timing.
"And I hope you never set foot on my father's estate again." Jocelyn called from the double French doors which exited onto the terrace. Her father had just come into the ballroom from outside where he had been talking to Dexter's business partner, looking after the details.
"Jocelyn, you've made a scene," he said bluntly.
"I don't care, Daddy." There wasn't a hint of panic in her voice, nor remorse, nor even uncertainty.
Jocelyn stepped into the bracing night air. It's chill brightened her. A balding, unkempt twentieth century sort of person was standing there. He looked pale, a thin line of perspiration covered his upper lip.
"You have to go back in there, Dexter is so right for you." he insisted.
"I know who you are, you are not going to tell me what to do." She turned away, gathering a fullness of her gown in her hands,"Mr. Clayton, sir!"
At this moment Clayton pressed a sequence of keys meant to shut the computer down. The beeps bade him good-night and the silencing of the fan came to him almost as a sigh.
It was awkward at the computer shop the next day.
"It did what?" Jeff asked, still poking around inside a computer torn down on the bench.
"It typed on its own."
"Sometimes keys stick. Have you spilt coffee into the keyboard?" Jeff grimaced at the recalcitrant hard drive he was trying to install.
"Not a single key sticking, but all them . . . and not sticking but making up new data . . . on their own."
"Sounds like programming to me. What software are you using?" Jeff asked.
"Gibberish, eh?" Kent had been overhearing the conversation, he walked in from the back. "Garbage. Did the screen go blank?"
"No not gibberish, or garbage. It was part of the story I was writing, only it was like the characters were writing their own lines, right in front of me."
Kent looked at Jeff who had looked up from the computer on the bench. Their knowing glances reduced Clayton a little bit. It was a tribute to the two computer technicians that they didn't say anything because there was lots that could've been said.
Kent owned the store, felt it important to keep Clayton-the-novelist as a customer. "If it is still doing it tomorrow, bring it in."
Clayton wandered a lot that day. He looked at the dresses in the window of The Party-Goer Boutique and thought of Jocelyn. The shoes on display at Footwear Unlimited all seemed to have a speck of vomit on the toe with an army of Dexters waiting to wipe them off and recover what was left of their tattered self-respect.
Clayton didn't want to go home. Clayton didn't want to turn that blasted computer on again. Clayton feared what might yet happen to his carefully developed characters. As badly as they had parted, Clayton somehow thought that it might be redeemable if it didn't go any further. Plot lines branched and circled back on themselves in Clayton's mind. He was torn, thinking that he had to rescue Jocelyn and Dexter and all the characters who would benefit from their romance. And then thinking again—maybe he couldn't, maybe they wouldn't let him.
In his wandering Clayton found himself back in his own kitchen, Gail busily making supper.
"I think I'm going to give up writing." he said flatly, his usual vitality having disappeared.
"Oh?" Gail said, in a way that suggested that she thought something was bothering him and with a bit of encouragement he might talk about it further.
But Clayton took the Oh? to mean that she didn't think it was the right thing to do, that maybe he should reconsider, but she didn't really want to hear any more about it. He was struck by how little she really understood about what it meant to be a writer, the hardship and pain in getting the words out, words that could stay there and say what he really meant them to say.
"It's just too hard anymore," he said.
"That's all right dear, do you think you could paint the bathroom then?"