Friday, January 6, 2017

Evolution of an Idea

After a hiatus of holiday confusion replete with self-doubts about my ability to write I have finally returned to my writing forge to hammer out some incomplete short stories on the desktop and perhaps work on adding another few words to one of the incomplete novels.

That is, if nothing distracts me.

Usually I  have a more-or-less, vague idea for a story before I type the first word.  Sometimes it is an opening and on other occasions it is an ending. Regardless the final opening or closing changes, influenced by whatever took place between the two. Despite my claims that I am a Plotter I frequently fall into Pantser mode to generate copy.   The two types I mentioned above are the easy stories to write. It is the majority of other story's evolution that bedevil me.

Let me use, as an example, my July1998 Analog story, THE ICE DRAGON'S SONG, which started out as a fanciful recasting of HANS BRINKER AND THE SILVER SKATES, but taking place on Europa - one of Jupiter's moons. That conceit lasted for a few thousand words of an early draft but were mostly rewritten when another possibility intruded because of the nature of Europa and the influence of several of my Jupiter stories that preceded it.  Then the story changed again to the conflicted nature of the teen-aged protagonist's mind when Gene Wolfe asked me a question about the sub-text of the first "dragon" when he heard me reading a partial draft in the hotel lobby.  As a result Freudian symbolism became a central feature of the story's resolution.

That came back to me as I worked on one of my current projects; a story whose premise has changed with each completed scene. Each  change rippled back over new and previous scenes until I had a piss-pot of seemingly unrelated 7,000 words.  While winnowing scenes down to those that appeared to hang together some more possibilities came to mind and... Well, you get the drift.

Further efforts for resolution only invoked more confusion and, finally, I glimpsed a clearer idea of the point I wanted to make. The only problem was that none of the candidate scenes I'd selected could get me there but some of the discarded scenes perhaps could.  Luckily I use Scrivener and still retained those parts so retrieving/reinserting them in the draft was no problem.  Those alterations have taken me to 3,500 words of early draft that I now have to wrestle into something under 7,500 words.  That is, unless my fickle muse presents me with further possibilities and outcomes.

I go through this agonizing process so much that I wonder about how other writer's stories evolve? Are they as tortured with doubt and indecision as they cast words onto the screen?  Do they edit and revise entire chunks of text as they develop their stories, casting aside perfectly good narrative just because it doesn't fit the current project?*  Or do they, like I, modestly protest that I produce final drafts with little effort?

If all fiction writing is this messy and undisciplined it is no wonder so many abandon it rather than perfect their craft, leaving only the persistent and those who do not recognize their own limitations as they fill the slush piles.

*I doubt anything a writer conceives is ever cast aside but is repurposed 
in some other piece further down the line, even if they are unaware of it.


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