drives us to write stories? I suppose the reasons are different for everyone.
For me it is a desire to create a story that is fresh, fun, and maybe even
exciting. I love the mental pleasure that comes with completion of a story. Yet,
I think I get the most enjoyment in the creation process itself.
When I start out on a journey of a new story, I have no idea where it is going to take me. I like to start with a scene. That scene might be something benign like a couple sitting in a restaurant having a meal. Or it might be something more immediate, in your face like a man standing on a dark corner with the barrel of a gun shoved painfully in his back, a whiskey scented, stale cigarette smoke breath, rattling in a raspy voice his ear, “Give me your watch and ring and hurry up about it.”
Hopefully, from that moment, the story unfolds as I write. Sometimes I write the entire story with that scene as the beginning. Often I have to go back and create a different beginning that leads up to that point from which the story progresses to the end. There is a term for my style of writing, it is called being a ‘seater’ as in ‘seat of the pants’ writer. I don’t plan, I don’t outline (until after the story is written) I usually don’t create maps for one to follow (until after the fact). I usually keep all that stuff in my head – although the more complicated a story, the more important detail becomes and then I might have to create a map to help me keep track of all the small pieces. On longer pieces, novels for instance, I create a Story Bible; a document with a brief description of each character, place, magic, or whatever might come up. This helps in the long run especially if (as is common for me) I choose to set the piece aside for a while and come back to it.)
Some in my writers group feel that they cannot follow a story that involves a new or different world without a map. Is that laziness? No, not really, they are simply trying to grasp a deeper hold on the story. Knowing where things are situated in relation to one another is important to how they process things. When I am in the process of translating the ideas and pictures in my mind to paper, stepping aside to draw a map, pulls me away from the action. That may mean losing the creating thread completely. So I find a time when being in the story isn’t critical to draw any map I might need. True I might find myself at a point when I can no longer be sure which corner the apothecary, the building where a group of brigands dug a tunnel to make a quick escape, stands. For me to get lost in where everyone stands while action is taking place could be distracting as well. I will generally write out the scene as best I can and draw a map afterwards. When I am done with the map, I go back verify it with early scenes and move people to where they need to be.
When I get stuck, the action ends and I don’t know where to go, I look to some sage words I read from Orson Scott Card, “What could happen?” Sometimes I make a list of possible actions. Let’s say, I have a character, call her Allison, looking over a cliff at the city they love. Allison is likely sweating from the exertion of the climb. The sight takes her breath away, she feels pleasure at her accomplishment. The girls in the office said she was crazy to hike up here all alone. But she did it.
So what could happen? Maybe a bear appears on the only trail out, cutting her off from retreat, leaving her with decisions that are certainly not easy, pleasant, or enviable. Does she jump? Does she run into the thick brush hoping to avoid the bear? Does she run at the bear waving her arms in an attempt to startle it? Does she lie on the ground hands over her neck and play dead? What’s going on inside her as she’s trying to decide? Is her heart racing, trying to bounce its way up and out of her throat? Are her temples throbbing? Is the pit of her stomach in knots at the understanding of what the bear could do to her? Does the world slow to a crawl as the bear begins moving towards her?
Unless the character dies in a scene, there is always a next moment. Even when a hero dies, the rest of the world goes on, other things happen, other points of view come into play. Other actions take over the direction of the story. Or it may indeed be the time to end the story.
Who knows where the next action will take me? That’s the fun of creating. That’s what drives me to keep going.
Do you like challenges?
If so, take my Allison character, standing up on the cliff looking at the city and write what happens next, take me through the encounter with the bear. Make it believable. She isn’t likely to take the bear down with a karate kick to the nose. (Although, she might try that and really piss off the bear) You tell me.