Sunday, September 30, 2012

Random Ways Down the Road

Writer's block - the single greatest fear of an aspiring author.  We've all heard about it, and most of us have experienced it on occasion.  There come a point in every story where we aren't sure what comes next.  Worse, sometimes we try jotting our ideas on paper, only to find that all of them suck out loud.

I experienced this on the novel I'm currently working on not too long ago.  Usually, this happens when I begin to sprint past my outline.  Ever seen one of those Road Runner cartoons where the Coyote runs off the cliff and just hangs there in the air for a few seconds before plunging several hundred feet to the bottom of the canyon?  Well, that's what I feel like when I outrun what I've planned in my journal.  I'm just hanging there with no idea what to do next, and it seems like the only thing I can do is hold up a white sign on a stick that says "Uh oh."

I played around with several different things - should the main character get a new member of his team?  What would that new addition look like(believe it or not, I toyed around with a Sheldon-type character from The Big Bang Theory, then wisely chickened out)?  Should I bring out the central point of the investigation now, or would I be better served by extending the suspense a little longer, and how would I even do that?

Like I've said before, most people view the creative process like goofing off.  However, as a writer, you sometimes have no choice.  So I sat in my trusty leather recliner and threw things against the wall.  Then, as has often happened, things just came together, and from the place it usually does - the story I've already written.  The disparate parts were already in place, and I just needed to bring them back together.
(Just think - this started out as separate ingredients)
The answer to my conundrum was present in the earlier part of the book.  A character I'd intended to be a minor contributor to be forgotten by the halfway part of the book became the obvious solution to get involved and make take on a greater role.  His personality and connections established in chapter four helped the tale go in new directions that helped advance the story without being too cheesy about it.

This isn't the first time I've done this.  I rarely know where a story is going to go when I begin writing it.  Sure, I might know the beginning and have a general idea of where I want it to end, but getting from point A to B is always an adventure.  Additionally, point B has been known to change.  Most writers know that a story has a life of its own - no matter how snobbish it sounds to say that - and it's up to us to guide it down the road.  In previous stories, some minor plot point that I thought was a throwaway has come back to factor in in a major way I never dreamed of when I put it in there.

It's like the Invisible Hand that Adam Smith wrote about - something moves the story(or the market) in ways you can't see or even anticipate.  I'vv had characters I thought would be a big part of my book simply fade away by the middle of it, and I've had a twist in the action that I put in just for the sake of enjoyment end up creating an entire divergent storyline that I never foresaw.

The point is that, as a writer, never dismiss what you put on the page.  Sometimes that dent in the car's rear bumper was just something to describe the feel of it, but other times it morphs into the clue the detective needs to figure out who was involved in the hit and run.  Only as you move down the road do you find out what really has meaning and what doesn't.  The useless isn't always so useless, and maybe your brain was adding something it knew you needed, even if your conscious mind didn't.

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