I looked in my Idea Box, and was greeted with things like “commas,” “dashes and hyphens,” and “transitive and intransitive verbs.” Aren’t you glad you aren’t reading one of those topics right now?
So I reached out to one of my writer friends, who said, “Why don’t you write in writing? On what you are learning from Darklight. On the challenges, you are having.” This was a very good suggestion, since my writing funk has spread from my blog to Darklight, as well. Where I wrote almost 3K words last week, I haven’t been inspired to write word one this week.
I’m quite sure that if not for the continued encouragement (and sometimes nagging, but that’s okay, because sometimes I need at least that much impetus) from the two ladies linked above, as well as a couple of other friends, Darklight would still be sitting at around 500 words, instead of over 8,000 words.
Part of my difficulty with the story is that it had a rather odd genesis. Most people get ideas for their stories more or less consciously: They want to write a story, so they start thinking of a character, or a scene, or a plot, then continue to build on those thoughts. They build the world in which their characters live, they determine what conflicts and challenges those characters will encounter.
In my case, I had a dream. Seriously: a dream. I dreamed about a woman carrying a 9mm pistol in a dark, shadowy place. She had a name, too—and not one that belongs to anyone I know in fact or fiction. There was also a male character in the dream, but it wasn’t me. (He didn’t have a name, though.) The pair were looking for, or hunting, something or someone, but there was also someone (or something) hunting them.
And that’s it. That’s all I had for my story. I mentioned the dream to someone (I honestly don’t remember who), and that person suggested I build a story around that scene. As it happens, the particular scene I dreamed about has yet to occur. The way things are developing, that particular scene (especially as I dreamed it) may never show up in the written story.
As I started writing, however, I did imagine a few more scenes. I still haven’t introduced any real conflict (although I have a pretty good idea of at least one point of tension), nor have I created an antagonist. That, too, is “coming soon.”
Now that I’ve embarked on this particular journey, though, I have come to a few realizations. (Most of you, I’m sure, will go “Well DUH!” as I relate the following, and I can’t say I will blame you. Sometimes, I can be pretty obtuse.) None of these are new revelations, nor are they especially profound. Empirically, they are fairly obvious; however, internalizing them has been the big hurdle—or series of hurdles—for me.
First, when writing a story, it’s a pretty good idea to have a beginning, a middle, and an end in mind. I am not sure yet if I have an ending; I think I have a middle. Or at least, a climax.
Second (and please understand these aren’t necessarily listed in any particular order), it’s probably wise to know what genre you’re writing—and, I’m sure, better to know earlier rather than later. I tell people that I think Darklight is science fiction. So far, it’s more like a mystery or suspense (although there is precious little of the latter, to be honest). In fact, it’s probably got more elements of a romance than either mystery or suspense. That was certainly not the plan!
To complete a story, one must write
Third, while it has been shouted from the rooftops, the mountain tops, and the word spread to every Middlesex village and town, it is only in the past couple months (and understand Darklight is almost a year old) I have truly understood that in order to complete a story, one must actually write. I am a naturally lazy person, generally taking the path of least resistance. I am also an epic procrastinator. Thus, I have to develop the discipline to put my butt in the chair, bring up Scrivener, and start typing.
Fourth, you don’t need to write an instant classic every time you put your fingers on the keyboard. In fact, you don’t have to do anything but write. The most important thing is to put words on the page and do so for several pages. In the words of the esteemed science fiction author, Theodore Sturgeon, “ninety percent of everything is crud.” There is a reason the term is “ the first draft.”
Complete draft, then edits, because 90% of everything is crud
When I started Darklight, I wrote the opening scene twice. The first time, it was in the first person. Then I realized I wanted the flexibility to change the point of view. I rewrote the opening, then rewrote it again. It didn’t take me long to realize that if I continued in that vein, I’d never progress—but I might have one helluva great opening scene. Or not. Think about it: Would you rather revise page one, two hundred times, or revise two hundred pages once? Yeah, I figured that out, too. Almost all by myself.
I wish I had hundreds of…scores…okay, half-a-dozen stories inside me bursting to get out. Then I could write one of the others while Darklight percolates. I don’t have a bunch of characters dying to have their stories told. Maybe if I did, I’d have more stories to tell. And that leads me to my final “discovery.”
To write well, to maintain inspiration, and to understand the craft, you need to read. A lot. When I was in California last month, I did just that (since I couldn’t play WoW all night, every night).
The first “ah-HAH!” moment my reading led me to was that you can advance your story with narrative, as well as dialogue. Right now, I’d say eighty percent of Darklight is dialogue. That’s great if you’re writing a screenplay, I’m sure. And while I think my characters are having great conversations, neither they nor the story, are going anywhere!
The next revelation was that different books had different characters, different plots, different conflicts. They aren’t all the same. In other words, there is more than one story out there. And, I hope, more than one story in me.
So there you have it, in a thousand words: Where I am with my writing, and where I would like to be going. Of course, the key is to not only keep looking forward but to move forward as well.