Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Inherent Messiness of Writing

It seems so simple, writing a  little story.  Shouldn't take long.  Couple of hours, maybe.  You know how it's going to go.  Even have a nice hook in mind.  Oh yeah, and a killer ending that will rock every reader back. Great!

So you sit down, read a few e-mails, check your social media suite, hit a couple of web sites and then begin.  Open a blank screen in the old WP and .... and....and....

What was that opening that seemed so awesome in your mind a short time ago? Somehow it doesn't seem so good when you've written it down.  It doesn't matter; you still have that killer ending, right?  But on reflection even it doesn't seem as incisive as you imagined. You can work on those later, after the central story stuff is developed.

And there's a lot of story stuff  that you didn't really think through in that first flash of inspiration.  Neither had you thought through the plot, the way the story would unfold, and what the overarching theme should be.  Those and  thousand details that now conflate your thoughts, so you read more e-mail and social to take your mind off it for a moment before you really settle down.

But how to do that?  What sometime works for me is a diagram or two - you know, to sketch out the progress of the story's scenes. That usually leads to blocking out the time sequences on a spreadsheet so you don't make bone-headed mistake the copy editor can embarrass you with. Oh yeah, facts and settings need to be reasonably accurate, so you have to do research (and yes, cat videos do count, if only for the slight relief they provide!) and have that pile-o-facts readily available.

Your workbench starts to look like an explosion in a library. Spreadsheets, little reference windows, color coded scene blocks, calendars, and of course, your word processor of choice (Scrivener in my case.)  Gods, with all this clutter how can you be expected to get any work done?

But a first draft does get completed and it is what we professional writers charitably call a PoS.  The sequence of events, the motivations of the characters, and the settings are all wrong, wrong, wrong! Worse, the prose itself sounds weak, non-lyrical, and completely lacking in metaphor and allusion. The first draft is a travesty, a miserable attempt that barely stands a chance of improvement.

So you begin to move a few sections about, maybe trim a phrase here and there, check the e-mail, socials, etc, and occasionally think of a better way to express a thought.  Slowly, you breathe life into a character, work hard to make the setting a bit more realistic, and maybe throw out your original opening for something not quite as good, but more appropriate to what remains of the original concept. Crap, now you have to change the ending as well so that it flows naturally from the arc of the plot.  The fifth, sixth, or umpity-ninth edit results in a story not quite as good as you first imagined, but at least it won't embarrass you when you submit it.   It's good enough.

But not  nearly as good as the idea you just had with an absolutely great opening scene.


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