I have recently begun work on a brand new project. Yeah, that’s right, I’ve abandoned the others and started work on something new. OK, so it isn’t an entirely new idea, its one I’ve had in my head for a long time now. In fact, the main character of this new project I’ve had kicking about my ideas box for well over a decade.
But something happened last week, I don’t know what it was really, a strange congruence of idea and inspiration, that magic sense of things just falling into place. Not only did I have the opening of this book all mapped out, but I actually managed to write it all down in one sitting too. Two hours of pure straight up writing. Now I’m not saying all of this to brag, far from it, but it made me think about how daunting it can be to start a new project (especially if you- and by that I mean me- have so many unfinished projects lying around the place). Of course there is the initial excitement of formulating the idea, the skeleton of the story, the origins of your main characters, and letting them set out on their journey, but what is the ultimate destination? Where are they headed?
Some writers I’m sure know exactly where a project is heading. They have the whole thing mapped out, and know what they’re going to write. Personally, I’m more of a seat of your pants writer – when it comes to longer projects anyway – and often I’m not sure exactly how a project is going to end. This has its own dangers of course. Multiple books, the dreaded trilogy (I detest trilogies), books hundreds upon hundreds of pages long. You may also – in the editing – be required to cut huge reams of material that simply don’t fit in once you’ve reached the end and have to go back for your redrafts. However, it can also be exciting, in a way, letting your characters take you through their lives, on the paths that feel natural to them, seeing them succeed or fail, sometimes even die. I used to be really precious about all my characters, never wanting any of them to come to any harm, but this creates a cast of dull superhumans who can conquer any problem. Once I’d readjusted my thinking of that, I am now all too happy to kill off or maim or destroy my characters (perhaps a little too gleefully in some cases)
I guess this all falls under the umbrella of improvisational writing. This new project that I’ve started, I know roughly how the main plot strands start, I’ve some vague idea’s of where they may cross each other, may interweave, but other than that, I’m going to see where it takes me. Provided of course that I can continue to write! Maybe you don’t see it as such a big deal. Hey, maybe all writing is improvisational, at its most base level, but I would like to think that this isn’t always the case. Especially with shorter fiction. Generally (I personally feel) a short story is like a moment, an episode that drops you into a situation, takes you through it, pulls you out. There are other posts here (courtesy of Matt) dealing with shorter fiction (MUCH shorter in some cases!) and that is a challenge in itself. Creating a complete whole in a few thousand words. This is why I find it much more difficult to improvise with shorter fiction. There aren’t that many other paths to go down. Not that there is anything wrong with that, it can be far more fulfilling to create and complete a fiction in an afternoon, in one sitting, than to have a long winding road ahead of you which ultimately leads to a destination you can’t quite see. I personally just enjoy the journey.