scribbling in the dark
that’s what it’s felt like — literally and figuratively — lately, as i’ve been trying to reach the end of Running on Empty, the short story I failed to finish during VP XIV, to my great frustration.
why was this so hard? i’ve been trying to figure that out for myself, so i can hopefully avoid it in the future, and i think it comes down to the rather unimpressive realization that i take a fair mount of time to process my story ideas. i usually start with a particular image/scene/conversation that makes me wonder what the full story is, and that gets me energized, but then i usually spend several weeks working through various outlines (rough, detailed, in-the-middle), trying to discover what the story is really about.
i think i really have to know where the story is going before i can feel confident about writing. i don’t need to nail every step down, that’s inevitably a recipe for disaster* and i’ve learned to avoid it. however, i do need to know what the goal is, what the ultimate ‘purpose’ is for the characters and the story. without this as an anchor, i find my writing wandering all over the place and getting bogged down in minutiae because i can’t see the big picture.
this bothers me a bit, because i used to think i wrote for the same reason that i read (to find out what happens); however, it appears i have a bit more need for large-scale control. is this inherently bad? of course not. it is, though, a notably different perception of my own approach to writing.
how does this relate to RoE? well, because i was so blocked for so long**, i was writing on the fly without a clear understanding of where i was going. this was, in hindsight, a good process for me to work through, but it conflicted with everything i’ve worked with so far, and left me wandering about between multiple possible endings, several of them mututally exclusive, and trying to reconcile each one as i wrote. obviously, this wasn’t going to work.
i stumbled along as far as i could, but with the deadline looming i was stalled at a major crossroads for the story because i had no idea where it was going. when i returned home, i was still trying that process (just keep writing), with the same results (very little). i did have some more sparks of innovation, but each one quickly spun its own web of possible, but not definitive endings.
then came the scribbles in the night. thank the heavens for the subconscious.***
armed with these revelations, i was finally able to see a definitive end for the story, and there was much rejoicing. unfortunately, i was well behind in day job work, so my writing time was very limited, but this allowed these thoughts to gel further, and when i went above the garage this afternoon, i was ready. it wasn’t a bolt of lightning burst of fabulous writing, but i was able to get around each obstacle that appeared, because i could see my destination clearly, and as of a half hour ago, i reached the end.
let me repeat: it’s not perfect, but with this clear ending, i think i have a real shot at making this story something very cool. there is much revision and only 4 days left to do it in (i have sworn a solemn oath to submit the story by this coming Thursday), but i feel much much much better about it than before, and i can’t really ask for more than that.
* where my characters start using exclamation points to indicate their displeasure with being so mis-handled
** while i’d really like to blame my ‘toy’ for this ridiculous blockage, that squirting flower gag actually ended up saving the locale of the beginning of the story from some more obvious cliches.
*** that statement feels like a form of oxymoron, somehow…