I spent yesterday at the Science Fiction Day “minicon” in Uppsala. Very enjoyable and I got some time talking about my novel-writing with Ylva Spångberg, veteran translator of fantastic fiction. We started talking about the relation between the protagonists and the plot in a novel and I suddenly had an insight in how I create plots.
Some authors let the protagonists take charge of the story. They propel its development and their decisions steer the flow of events. One example: Elrond and Aragorn are in charge of the plot development of most of Lord of the Rings — Elrond says (in a prequel sequence in an appendix): “My daughter will only marry the king of the united Gondor and Arnor.” Aragorn therefore sets out to achieve this lofty goal.
I do not enjoy using that method ever in my writings, because it requires far-larger-than-life heroes and I am not comfortable with such characters.
Instead, my protagonists get immersed in unexpected developments that clearly are far bigger than themselves. Hence the metaphoric use of white-water rafting (forsränning) in the headline. The characters are swept away by a tumultuous flow of events and forced to do the best they can of the situation in order to survive and get a decent outcome. In that manner, it is also easier to surprise the reader. Things should only partially be as they seem and it should be hard for the reader to figure out what the end will be like when she is at the beginning of the story (Katherine Kurtz’s books taught me in the 1980s how dull predictable plots are.)