Monday, February 13, 2012

I love that (on writing)


I remember Stephen King writing about his process, I think it was in Danse Macabre, and at one point he says something about how (I'm paraphrasing here) "finding your story is a lot like being a knight and you're on a quest to rescue a princess from the tallest tower of a dark castle and you're riding around and around the outside looking for the way in, a way to get to her. That's your story. Sometimes the way in is easy, the drawbridge is down. Sometimes you use a back door. Other times you might have to scale a wall. And sometimes, there's just no way in, no matter how hard you look. Sometimes the knight wins the day. Sometimes the knight is defeated."

That always stuck with me. It's a nice little parable and it taught me one thing: When you're working on a writing project, sometimes you have to hunt (write) around a bit before things start to click. And sometimes that means you write for pages and pages before it works, that sometimes those pages become something, or maybe they just spark an idea, and sometimes they just end up in the trash.

That's the way it goes.


So, I'm working on my new thing a lot lately and it's really coming along nicely. I've put five chapters down in my "shitty" 1st draft and I really like how things are shaping up. I know who the characters are, where they start and why. I know how things go and how things end. In "broad stroke" terms, I know exactly what's going to happen and yet, there's still some space to wiggle around in, there's still some space to surprise me.

This is how I do it.


This is how I put together projects and write my books. I know where I'm going, I know the big landmarks and what lies in what direction, but some of the spaces in between are unknown, they're places I'll have to explore. I love that, because it allows for two of my favorite things, that happen while writing, to happen.

1. I love it when the characters start to move on their own and suddenly change direction on you. I love this because sometimes when it happens, the insight, the twist, the moment that results is so true and pure that you almost can't take credit for coming up with it, it's inspired and so kind of out-of-nowhere and all you can do is just kind of sit back and pat yourself on the back and say: "Good job, you. That's so clever..." It's very satisfying when that happens.

2. I love it when the path suddenly comes clear. It'll happen sometimes when I'm writing, I'll come to a point in the story and it's like it's all socked in by fog, so I can't see anything and as a result, I have no idea what to do next. Now, I know I can just jump ahead and then come back later, sure--Forward momentum is good, right?--but I also know if I stick in there and feel around, sometimes I suddenly find my way and whole new options appear.

Another bit of writing advice that has always stuck with me came from David Housewright.

Again, I'm paraphrasing, but he said (in defense of outlines): "With an outline, you should never have writer's block, because if you ever get stuck, you can just jump ahead and then come back later and fill between the two scenes until they link up. Think of it like a chasm, if you can see the other side, it's easier to build a bridge between them." Something like that. Anyway, hearing that, realizing that, it really lifted a weight from my shoulders. I've never had to do it, thankfully, so far I haven't been that stuck (knock on wood), but just knowing I could relaxed me. So I'll sometimes come to these places where whatever specifically happens next isn't clear to me and I'll have to write a bit, edit a bit, write a bit some more, and sometimes, something will suddenly click and it's like the fog has lifted and shown me the way. I love that moment, no more feeling around in the hazy dark, suddenly the road is open and it's time to put the hammer down.


So, I'm working on my latest project the other day and I hit the sixth chapter and... nothing. I know where I'm going, what needs to happen, but I have no idea how to get to it. Nothing. Total blank page stare time, you know?

I must have spent a week mulling over six-ish pages, a 1000-2000 some words, just me digging in there, writing the first scene and looking for a moment of importance, feeling around in the dark, casting lines. I put two characters in a room who would naturally be in a room together and I started them talking. It took a couple of passes, but it finally led me to a follow up scene which was... a total bitch, to be honest... but I finished it, tweaked it and then late last night, I found a moment and it unlocked the whole next two chapters. Just like that. Click-click-click, like dominoes. Zooom, like a Wet Banana. Right then all the slogging and the fretting and the agonizing over word choice and character decisions? Suddenly, it's not a slog anymore. Suddenly, it's fun again, the tires have found purchase and we're burnin' rubber, baby, head-long, high speed, and down hill.

Those little moments of creation make the whole long slow process worth it.

I'm gotta get back to work,
Jon

1 comment:

Shawn Enderlin said...

Nice post. I know what you mean about how finding they way out can be so damn satisfying and then the words just pour out. Pure awesome :-)