Let The Story Write Itself

It didn’t take long to get back into the swing of fleshing out a new book. During the writing of The Road Out I managed to get another two ideas down. They were just rough outlines and little else. I liked one in particular, although the whole thing was a vague shape in the distance. Briefly, this series is going to be my first foray into science fiction, my favorite category for personal reading. This project will be done differently, though. I’m going to bring it out as a series of smaller volumes, about 20,000 words per volume. This allows me to put one out about every two months. At the same time, I can beaver away at the second volume of Highfields.

To get things going, I just started writing. Let my mind wander over the idea, see where it went. As the hours passed, the kernel of a good story revealed itself. The creative outpouring is by far the easiest bit, and I guess most writers find this. You let the story unfold itself, going back and adjusting the story line as you go. It’s important not to confuse your hats, I find. Don’t let the editor interrupt the writer. Structure can be very loose on the creative passes. All that can be fixed later; that’s what editing is for, after all. The editing part is mechanical; nuts and bolts, wiring and processors. The creative writing is the machine itself, the package that makes it what it is.

My time learning from Rob taught me the mechanics and technicalities of good writing. But, he taught me something more, something fundamental. To achieve a passage that is both well executed and is still a good read, we need to extract the most detail we can with the least amount of words possible. To achieve that, we must be able to not only see the scene in our mind, but ensure that it fits the situation and the characters. I find the best way to achieve that is to, as I said before, let the story write itself.

By writing a story arc, and then making the characters it needs, we aren’t giving our characters room to grow and develop as they otherwise would. By creating the characters, and then writing the story, we restrict it, as the characters cannot do anything outside their persona or they become unbelievable. If we grow our characters alongside the story, however, both elements can assist in the growth of each other. This is what I mean by letting the story write itself.

I love the way characters build themselves as we write the story. Starting with an age and gender, along with a rough plot niche we wish them to fill, we then build and build. The image comes into focus, gaining depth and complexity. The story line adds weight; pushing and pulling them around. Our character’s reaction to any given situation brings forth questions. Why did he say that? What happened in his life that gave him that viewpoint? Hang on, he wouldn’t do that. He’d do this, which means that doesn’t happen, this does. Now, the characters are pushing the story around.

Writing teaches us so much. About ourselves, about others, and about the world. To write a passage of fiction and then play with the mechanics until it rings true, we must think deeply about all the whys and hows. Meditating on those things brings us a deeper understanding of how the fiction we write reflects reality. All of us can write good stories, I believe. Storytelling is human nature. The good writer is the one who doesn’t let themselves interfere too much.

Herein lies a problem, though. We want to sell our books, right? If we follow the standard formula as laid out by our predecessors, we will sell books, right? A murder mystery ends with the hero solving the murder. He avoids getting killed along the way, maybe meets the love of his life and nicks the villain. However, life isn’t like that. But, readers don’t want life, they want an escape from life; entertainment. What if our story doesn’t want to go that way? Maybe our characters don’t steer it that way. Or, maybe the story doesn’t lean in that direction. Then, the writer gets too involved. It was a great story, but it had to be forced down the path of the formula. Or, at least, the writer convinced themselves it did. Now, it’s a good story, but not a great one.

My family probably hates this part of me, but I can’t do it. I can’t alter what is written for the sake of financial gain. Highfields doesn’t fit a genre. The events within it don’t follow a formula, they follow the characters and the story with no interference from me. At least, as little as I could put in. Oh sure, it was edited and carefully manicured to be the best presented book I could manage. But, once the story was written, it never changed. The characters never changed. Only the wording, sentence structure, and so on.

I write the creative story line at a fairly quick pace, over 1,000 words a day. It’s the same way I play music, and the same way I paint. It’s nearly an out-of-body experience, to borrow a concept. Let it flow out. Don’t think, feel. My old drum teacher called it relaxed concentration. While I’m writing like that, people can talk to me, but I don’t hear them. I guess it would be the same while I’m playing, but I genuinely wouldn’t hear them anyway. Ideas pour out, and if I stop to think, they’re gone and we get a train-wreck.

Being different can be hard. Indeed, it can be very hard.

But, if you’re not like anyone else, then nobody else is like you, are they?

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One thought on “Let The Story Write Itself

  1. Pingback: The Importance of Good Structure | William Drayman

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