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Dealing with the Unexpected

Have you ever been coming off an entrance ramp, onto a highway – one of those ramps where it starts out as two lanes, and then one of the lanes merges into the other so that the ramp narrows to only one lane before it dumps into the highway – and another driver next to you on the ramp, though further back than you and in the lane that is supposed to merge into your lane, suddenly guns their car and races past you barely squeezing into your lane before the ramp ends? Normally causing you to break or swerve so you don’t hit the other car?

“Noooo.” The voice, as much in my mind as out, answered with a tinge of sarcasm.

“You don’t even drive.” When had she come back from vacation?

“Your question didn’t specify if I drove or not.” Her answer more than a tad snippy.

I turned my chair to be greeted with a smirk. She walked across the room and instead of dropping into her well-worn leather chair, she stopped by the window looking out at the mountains.

“But what I meant—“

“You should have said what you meant.” She turned back leaning on her hands against the window sill. Her strawberry hair hung down her front, her blue-jean shorts and sleeveless top an indication of the unusual 80 degree weather we were experiencing. “You’re an author. Aren’t you supposed to be able to express yourself so that people can understand what you mean?”

“Listen—“ I ended in a sigh as she turned her back to me, staring at the mountains, just to irritate me.

“What point were you trying to make?” She asked without glancing back.

“I was trying to make an analogy between my example and what it feels like when you have a character that does something you are not expecting them to do.”

“Don’t you mean a metaphor?” She swung around again.

“It’s not important.” I sat back, twisted my lips and wondered when did Miss Grammatically-Challenged, at least when working on my books, all of sudden become so picky?

She shrugged her shoulders and crossed over to her chair and dropped into it, slouching with one leg over the chair’s left arm.

“As I was saying… “ I glared in her direction, but she only smiled, lifting her eyebrows. “As I was saying, when someone races past me like that I ask myself why did they need to do that? Why couldn’t they just fall in behind me? It’s not like I am going too slow, and their rash action can cause a wreck.”

Her nod told me at least she was listening.

“Unfortunately, I can’t ask them why.”

Her eyes rolled back and I knew; from experience, she was losing interest.

“The difference is I can ask a character when they do something like this.”

“Characters cut you off on entrance ramps?” She didn’t need to narrow her eyes to express her disbelief; her tone was enough, but she narrowed them nonetheless, for emphasis.

“That was just an analogy… metaphor… “ I closed my eyes for just a moment. “Whatever you call it. The point is that while I— we,” I changed the pronoun as her stare went from sharp to a razorblade, “are writing and have one thing in mind, but sometimes a character will say or do something that I didn’t expect. Something that I thought might happen later in the tale, but it shows up on the page then and there. It is as if the character couldn’t wait for when I planned the words and just had to have me put them down at that moment.”

“Don’t you think the characters know better when they should do something than you do?” Her eyebrows went up with the question mark.

“But I created them,” I argued, but for some reason I thought I was going to regret it. “Don’t you think I would know what they should do and say, and when?”

“Did you know about all these characters before you started writing the book?”

“No.” I wasn’t sure where she was going with this, but I would play along… as if I had a choice. “Outside of a few main characters, most of them appeared as I came to them in the story.”

“So how did you know to add them to the tale and when to add them?” She was staring at me like my sixth-grade teacher when I couldn’t get the lesson; which was more often than I cared to remember. “Didn’t they tell you they needed to be part of the tale?”

“That is true.” Of course they talked to me; which only reminded me that when I tell people, those that aren’t fiction writers; people would get a strange look in their eyes. The same look as when they are told someone was kidnapped by aliens. It’s another way I can tell if someone is a fiction writer or not. Fiction writers just nod with understanding.

“So if they told you they needed to be part of the tale, why wouldn’t they have the same right to tell you when they needed to do or say something?” She even sounded like my sixth-grade teacher.

“Hmmph.” She had a good point. “I guess you are right. I shouldn’t be too surprised when they show up without my knowledge. I trusted them with my first book and shouldn’t change as I write the second book in the series.”

“What did you learn from this?”

I imaged myself in a small wooden desk cowering. Yet I only paused briefly as I tried to figure out how to relate it to my previous analogy. Even I could hear the hesitancy in my own voice as I answered, “That like my analogy, I should anticipate a character may do something I don’t expect.”

“No.” She shook her head and sighed. “Your metaphor was stupid. What you should have learned is that you should say what you mean… and I guess also to accept the unexpected, when it happens, and to appreciate it for what it is.”

Actually, Ms. Fletcher was young and really pretty… especially to a sixth-grade boy. Probably why I didn’t understand what she was saying most of the time.


Are you open to the unexpected and how do you handle it? In the many management training sessions, I participated in over 30+ years, I was told over-and-over again that change was the hardest thing for people to accept. Do you adjust well to change? Have you had any surprises that you first thought a problem and then found out it wasn’t so bad? In my analogy, the guy who zooms past me hits a big hole in the road, that I would otherwise have not seen, and messes up his alignment ?

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