by Stephen L. Duncan
In 1453, the Ottomans finally conquered Constantinople (not Istanbul) and so fell the safe land trade route that was the Silk Road from Europe to China and Southeast Asia.
Thus arose a need to reestablish the stream of commerce by nautical means.
Enter Christopher Columbus. With a comprehensive knowledge of trade winds and a negligent understanding of the size of the Earth, he blundered into the Bahamas on October 12th, 1492 and changed the world.
I like to think that, as writers, we all sometimes set out with expectations of where our words will take us and what we expect to find at the end of our journey, only to arrive at a completely different – and often better – destination. The Columbus connection is a natural and obvious notion, first because it's Columbus Day and I'm trying to be timely here, and second because writing a story is at its core simply about discovery. After all, are authors not also explorers?
Scenes, and even sometimes characters, often arrive because of a need in our story structure, much like the need of a route to the Indies set the Santa Maria, the Pinta, and the Santa Clara on their journey west. And surely like Columbus must have also prepared, we may plot and outline meticulously, detail every character and setting, and order scene after scene, trying to keep the story within our tightest limits of control. But how often does it seem that, while on our journey, the winds fill our sails and take us into unfamiliar waters and lead us to land not found on any of our maps?
Don’t be afraid of making these mistakes. I say let go and embrace the unpredictable whenever you feel the story steering away from you. Flesh them out and see where they take you. You might be surprised by what you discover.
Who knows? You might find gold. Happy Columbus Day!