"How Does Your Brain Work?"

I was asked that very question the other day in regards to writing. I thought about it for a second and then just said, "I don't know." 

And it's true. Whenever I pick up one of my paperbacks, start flipping through it, and remind myself all of THAT came from my brain, I'm just kind of like ".......wut." I think about the number of ideas that are floating around inside my head at any given moment and, frankly, it's kind of amazing that I can ever make sense of them all. It's especially true when it comes to writing a series, because there are so many little details you have to keep track of in order to maintain continuity. In fact, that's the context the title question was asked in -- the CEO of the clinic where I work walked by my office, did a double-take, and said "What is THAT?" while gesturing at the Fracture mock movie poster on my wall. She has read and enjoyed my three current books and apparently didn't realize there would be a continuation. She said, "Do you feel this enormous amount of pressure now that you've said 'I'm going to write this book'?" I really don't, because storytelling is something that has always come fairly natural to me, but I told her I just needed to wrangle the WIP into submission because it's kind of all over the place. That's when the question was asked. 

It got me thinking a little about how I write. I feel like my process has been different for every book I've written. Dakiti was written in a very carefree manner back in the day; it didn't take that long to finish, and I really just winged it (hence the reason it required pretty heavy revising before publication). Nexus took forever to finish because I took two really long breaks in the middle of writing it. Then, despite the fact that it's the longest, I finished Ronan faster than any of the others because I worked on it at least a little bit every single day. I spent quite a bit of time pondering all of this during my recent book promo during the month of May. The whole thing was in celebration of Dakiti's 3rd anniversary, so I was reflecting on all the work that had gone into the series since its publication (and even before it). Obviously events in the books built upon one another and tied in to one another, but the way the series was developed externally is kind of interesting too. 

One of the primary plot points introduced in Dakiti is the fact that Ziva killed Aroska's brother two years before the events of the story. Throughout the book, it becomes clear that the situation isn't quite what it seems. Aroska realizes he doesn't know the whole story, but for reasons yet unknown, nobody is willing to tell him the whole story. Of course I knew how it all went, and while I wasn't exactly sure when I would reveal the truth, I wanted to at least tell myself what happened. I wrote the flashback detailing Soren's death -- aka the scene that would later become Chapter 38 of Ronan -- way back in 2012 and simply titled it "Assassin." For reference, Dakiti wasn't published until 2014. I've always thought it was kind of interesting to have that scene just lurking in the background while the rest of the series came together. While it wasn't necessarily the main plot, a lot of the character development was ultimately built around it. 

I knew the information revealed in that scene would eventually need to be worked into the storyline, but I wasn't exactly sure where to put it. I'd originally planned on including it in Nexus, but when I got to the place I wanted to put it, it just wasn't time. The characters weren't ready. Isn't it funny how writing can be based on instinct like that? Something just doesn't feel right, and you can't really explain why. 

The sequence in Ronan where that scene ended up -- dubbed the Hillside Sequence for obvious reasons, and the Sledgehammer Sequence for less-obvious ones -- was honestly never supposed to exist. It was based around a little one-shot I wrote, once again in 2012 and actually not long after I wrote that flashback. At the time, the two pieces had absolutely no correlation whatsoever. I still have the original version; it's about 550 words long and is titled "Let Me Show You Something" (which, some of you may recall, is what Aroska ends up saying to Ziva to set that sequence in motion in Ronan). In fact, here it is, for your reading pleasure:

Ziva paused, shifting her foot forward ever so slightly until the toe of her boot met rotting tree bark. She poked at it, testing its height, and then stepped gingerly over it, teetering for a moment while she regained her balance.
"We're almost there," Aroska said, tightening his grip on her hand as he dragged her along. "Watch out for this thorny bush on your left."
She sidestepped to avoid the bush and used her free hand to pry at the blinders covering her eyes. It was one thing to go hiking through the forest in the middle of the night -- guided by Aroska of all people -- but it was something else entirely to do it all blindfolded. He'd insisted she wear them when she'd refused to keep her eyes closed, claiming she was going to spoil the surprise. She felt like it was some sort of sensory deprivation.
"Where exactly is 'there'?"
He only laughed. "Let me show you something," he'd said. Those had been his terms -- he'd agreed to let her use his data on the condition that she allow him to show her something when the mission was over. Traipsing through the hills in the dark wasn't exactly what she'd had in mind when she'd grudgingly agreed.
She had to admit, however, that he had piqued her curiosity. The man had practically been giddy as they'd left town that evening, though to his credit he'd tried hard to control himself. She couldn't fathom what in the galaxy he wanted to show her, much less why he was so willing to share it with her.
"Almost there," he said again, almost a whisper.
Ziva felt a sudden change in the air and could tell they'd broken out of the trees and onto open ground. She pulled up short, taking small steps forward and feeling her feet settle in a patch of lush grass.
The chilly breeze that had been cutting through the forest was suddenly replaced by a pocket of warm air that seemed to have come out of nowhere. More accurately, it was radiating from a source, and that source was directly in front of her. She froze, resisting Aroska's continual tugging for a moment as she probed the space in front of her, hoping she wouldn't crash into anything.
Aroska took her by the shoulders, positioning her so that she seemed to be facing directly toward the mysterious warmth. It wasn't so much an actual heat source as it was like a warm summer breeze. Except it wasn't summer, and the real breeze had a cold bite to it.
She felt Aroska's fingers fiddling with the blinder clasp at the back of her head. "Keep your eyes closed until I say, okay?" he said, hesitating a moment before releasing the clasp.
As uncomfortable as she was, Ziva was curious enough to do as she was told. As soon as the blinders fell away, she winced, overcome by the bright light that reached her eyes even through her closed lids. She took another couple of steps forward, guided by Aroska's hand.
"Okay," he said, "open your eyes."

Obviously the tone and context were a lot different in this version than what we see in the actual book, but a lot of what's in the book was taken from this passage verbatim. The best part? I never knew what they were looking at, or why it was warm, or why he wanted to show it to her. At some point I'd just gotten this image in my head of the two of them staring upward at some sort of turquoise light source and wanted to write about it. It wasn't relevant to anything that was happening in the actual books, but then as I was plotting Ronan, I came up with an idea for how to not only incorporate but also combine both Assassin and Let Me Show You Something (which had seemed totally irrelevant up until that point) in order to bring the mysterious backstory full circle. See kids, this is why they tell you to never get rid of any of your writing, regardless of how random and unrelated it seems. 

And while we're talking about #Ariva.... When I first began playing with all the characters who make up the Ziva Payvan series, the story was all about Ziva and her team. I've mentioned a few times that Aroska's role was never meant to extend past Dakiti -- he was just sort of supposed to be the-agent-who-happened-to-be-helping-with-this-particular-mission. That was back before the aforementioned #Ariva backstory even existed, so there was no reason to continue writing him. When I did decide to add that element and continue Aroska's story, I felt guilty because I was afraid I was deviating from what the story was supposed to be about (Ziva, Skeet, and Zinni). When I decided to publish, it was almost liberating because it meant I could go back through Dakiti and Nexus (which were both already complete at the time) and tweak them to be more #Ariva-centric. And I don't mean that from a shipping/pairing standpoint -- this series has very much become Ziva and Aroska's collective story and revolves around the mistakes they've made, lessons they've learned, and ways they've changed one another...for better or worse.

So that's how my brain works. It comes up with irrelevant scenes that don't seem like they could possibly ever find their way into the story, and then it somehow manages to work them in. This same thing has actually happened in Fracture -- when I finished Ronan, I had a couple of headcanons for things that might happen later (at the time I still wasn't 100% sure how/if I was going to continue the story). Both of those scenes have ended up with a place in the WIP. 

My brain takes advantage of opportunities as they arise and looks for ways to MAKE THINGS WORK. Sometimes that means scrapping a scene entirely, or putting it on the back burner so it can be inserted into a different place. My brain is always thinking ahead, picturing things that might happen two books later and then reflecting on how they affect what's currently happening in the story. My brain has given up trying to actually control the characters that live inside of it (and frankly, sometimes I forget that's the only place they exist). It has become so intimately acquainted with them that it knows better than to try to force them to do things they're not ready for, and somehow it knows when they are/aren't ready. 

If that all makes me sound crazy, it's because I am. I'm a firm believer that all writers have to be at least a little crazy in order to work their magic. We have fictional people living inside our heads. We scrawl notes on any available writing surface. We find ourselves staring vacantly at walls or out windows. We try to explain our plot ideas to someone and realize we just sound like we're insane. Even when we're not actually writing, we're still working. Our brains never stop.

What are some unique things about your approach to writing? Have you ever written something random that ended up finding its way into an actual plot?