Randy Ribay On Plots That Shift While Drafting

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.

Today's guest is Randy Ribay, Randy Ribay is the author of the contemporary YA novels AFTER THE SHOT DROPS (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018) and AN INFINITE NUMBER OF PARALLEL UNIVERSES (Merit Press/Simon & Schuster, 2015). He's also a high school English teacher, reader, gamer, watcher of great TV, husband, and father of two dog-children. He can probably be found somewhere making lightsaber sound effects with his mouth.

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?

Sports were a major part of my teen years, so I’ve always wanted to tell a story that explored some aspect of high school athletics. At the same time, I didn’t want to tell the standard sports story which focuses on the star athlete and their path to the championship. As such, I decided to write instead about two best friends and what happens to their friendship when one experiences success while the other does not. 

Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?

I had a vague idea of the climactic scene before I started writing, but I didn’t know how I was going to get there exactly. Drafting, then, was a process of finding the plot beats that would get my characters into that situation. 

Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?

It definitely shifted as I drafted and in each round of revisions, which I think always happens to me. Because as I get deeper into the story, I understand the characters better. Suddenly, actions or decisions I planned for them suddenly don’t make logical or emotional sense for their character anymore. 

Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?

When I’m in brainstorming mode, it’s pretty easy for me to find those ideas. But I really do have to approach the world hunting for inspiration. If I’m not in that mindset—like when I’m trying to hit a deadline—then I might not add anything to my running list of ideas for weeks. 

How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?

I go with the one that is the “stickiest.” By that, I mean the idea that my mind naturally keeps drifting back to whenever I’m bored. When an idea feels “sticky” for months or even years, that’s an indication that I’m interested in the story enough to spend (probably) several years developing it.  

I have 8 cats (seriously, check my Instagram feed) and I usually have at least one or two snuggling with me when I write. Do you have a writing buddy, or do you find it distracting?

I do have two dogs, and they love to cuddle. But since I’m an early morning writer, they’re usually still in the warm bed snuggled against my wife while I’m left working alone in the predawn darkness. It’s very sad for me.