"I guess my question is what surprises you when you actually start to write the story? What you planned isn't always what happens. So surprises?"
I still totally surprise myself when I'm writing. For me, my plot board is a bit like a journey plan, a route map. I know my starting point. I know my destination (Happy Ever After!). And I know some of the major landmarks (events) and changes of direction along the way (turning points).
You can plan a route in great detail, but it's not until you actually drive that road that you really know what it feels like to be there - what the scenery is like, what little details you will find that you can never discover until you are there in person.
A couple of years ago, my family and I drove from Inverness in Scotland, to the Isle of Skye. We knew we had to go down the side of Loch Ness, take a right at such-and-such a town and keep going along the yellow line on the map until we got to the bridge that took us onto Skye. Part of the route looked something like this (click here to see map). Not very exciting, is it? I'd stick the picture in, but the map is copyrighted, so only the link.
What I discovered along the way were sights like these:
And I also experienced wind that was so cold it felt like knives on my skin, that made the inside of my ears burn when I got back into the warm. We saw deer running over the hillside and watched the winter sun turn dull patches of hillside the most wonderful golds and browns and mossy greens.
Thankfully, writing is about the journey, not about getting to the destination in the shortest amount of time. If it were, every romance book would be only three sentences long, starting with: "Boy meets girl..."
So, when I get into my character's skins and take a journey with them, unexpected things happen. Where I thought I would have a long, straight uncomplicated run, I suddenly find a road block and have to take a detour. Sometimes I discover that the road I thought was the right way is actually taking me in the wrong direction and I have to scrap the map and start again. Other times, the road is just dull, but I glimpse a much a much prettier/dramatic/dangerous route nearby. Some landmarks are worth lingering over, and some are just a blur as I pass them by to visit somewhere that I thought looked dull, but have just realised has become vitally important.
Quite often, the surprises are in the details. The little things that add richness and texture to the book. In "Her Parenthood Assignment", I had no idea Gaby was going to give herself a makeover after she found a video of Luke's dead wife. I knew she was going to feel threatened by the dead wife's memory and I had a little card on my plot board that said: "Gaby finds a home movie of Luke's wife?". That was one of those little detours that suddenly became essential.Another example of a surprise is in "Break Up to Make Up". I knew Adele and Nick were going to take a journey together in a car that Adele had bought since their split. And I knew that Nick was going to have a fit that she'd sold his beloved jeep, but I didn't know that Adele was going to enjoy being the naughty one, just for once. I giggled with Adele as she waited for Nick to realise...
In my next book "English Lord, Ordinary Lady", I didn't know Josie's wig was going to fall in the soup... And that's all I'm going to say about that! You'll just have to buy it in February to find out more.
Really, my board is just a way of getting all the myriad ideas about the book out of my head (where they are whizzing at great speed and liable to get lost) and tuen them into something visual. I'm a very visual person, so I need to be able to picture things to remember them most of the time. Tell me your name, I'll forget it. But if I see it on a name badge, I'll keep that little memory snapshot with me for much longer.