The Exploration of Discovery
When I was young, my family would hop in the car and just go, no destination in mind. We had a free afternoon and my dad wanted to see “where the car will take us.”
“We’re exploring, Robbie. Let’s just see what we discover.”
It didn’t make much sense to me back then. I mean, dad was the one driving. The car wasn’t deciding anything. The only thing it ever decided was where to break down, which was never a good point in time. My bad luck with cars was inherited from my father.
Those afternoon drives are how I prefer to write. I pick a general direction and then allow my pen to dictate what side roads to go down. I usually have a broad idea of what I want in a story jotted down somewhere. For example, Losing Faith is about Selby and Faith Greer who open their marriage up to sexual adventures outside the bonds of matrimony. I knew Faith was going to begin having sex with her boss and eventually that would lead to family issues and a choice having to be made by the end of the novel. In To Steal a Star, an evil wizard threatens to bring an evil Darkness to Iolanthe and another wizard, Raynor, has to find a hidden princess, unearth a powerful talisman and save the day. That’s usually what I begin with as my outline. Then I start writing and follow the journey of my characters, exploring the side trails as they pop up. Along the way, I’ve discovered some great plot twists I never would have dreamed up on my own. (Sounds like my dad’s insistence that the car is making the decisions, doesn’t it?)
I know many prefer to outline their stories. I’ve read the books on the craft of writing that suggest that you write out a chapter by chapter outline so that you stay on track and keep to your story. I do write out character backgrounds and descriptions as well as important historical facts about the world I am creating in order to keep the rules of my novel in front of me. However, that’s about as far as I go with it. Everything is a series of side roads until I reach the journey’s end, exploring the characters as they reveal themselves to me.
The first draft, for me, is all about the excavation of ideas and possibilities. During the process, I’m discovering new characters, getting rid of old ones, and figuring out the subplots. The second draft is about fixing everything so that it falls in order and flows properly. Chapters are added and scenes deleted so that the front of the book leads to the logical ending. During the writing of Losing Faith, I decided Edwin being married wasn’t going to work, and since I didn’t have the time to go through a lengthy divorce for him, I demoted his wife to girlfriend status. A little further into the story it was obvious that even a girlfriend wasn’t going to work in the novel and so her character was given a pink slip without a severance package. Hopefully, she’ll find work in another story somewhere. (And they say Hollywood is tough!)
You’re probably thinking it’s a lot of extra, unnecessary work and that I just like breaking rules and murdering trees. Well, I do enjoy breaking the occasional rule, but to me this is the same amount of work as outlining and even more fun. I unearth funny lines and interesting character quirks as I learn the story I am trying to tell better. It’s what works best for me and with anything in life, that’s how you succeed - by doing what’s best and works for you. Besides, I’m not going anywhere and the tale is moving forward at a pace that allows me to take in the scenery. I’m eager to see what I discover next.
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