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Writer, Loosen Thy Grip: Let the Story Write Itself August 28, 2011

Posted by ambrosestolliker in Musings, Writing.
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Greetings, good reader. A.S. here.

Since early March, I’ve been writing my third book, a horror novel that takes place in both 1985 and the present day and alternates between the two time periods. For the purposes of this blog post, I’ll refer to them as the 1985 narrative and the present-day narrative. The first two hundred or so pages wrote themselves because I had a very good idea of where the story starts before I started writing. Part I takes place in the present day. Part II also takes place during the present day. Part III takes place in 1985.

A few weeks ago, I completed Part III and started Part IV, which is part of the present-day narrative. The only problem is, I didn’t have a very good idea what actually happens next, plot-wise, in the present day narrative. Why? Well, probably because I haven’t written enough of what writers like to refer to as “the back story,’” which all takes place in 1985 narrative – only part of it. I have a pretty good idea of what happens in the 1985 narrative from start to finish, but it’s not fleshed out. That makes it hard to write the present-day narrative.

In most cases, I write a story from beginning to end. Now, here I am without a real roadmap per se on what to do next. Couple this complication with the fact that I started two previous novel-length projects in the last few years and got stuck both times, and this is a situation that can really screw with a writer’s mind, hurt their confidence, call it what you will. Not this time. What this boils down to is that I’ve ended up writing this book in a non-linear fashion – that is, I’m writing the parts of the story where I have a very clear idea as to what happens next. So, after a few weeks of trying to write the next chapter in the present-day narrative, I’ve put that aside for now and gone back to writing the 1985 narrative, hoping that doing so will help illuminate in my writer’s mind what should happen next in the present-day narrative. Get it? Clear as mud, right?

The moral of the story here, at least to this writer, is to give up control over your plot and your characters and let the story write itself. I’ve found that the times when I get most stuck plot-wise is when I’m trying too hard to control where the plot goes. Can’t get that part of the novel the way you want it? Maybe it’s because you don’t know what your characters want, or what motivates them. Maybe you need to figure out what happened in the past before you can write the present, as is the case with my current novel. And hey, in the end, I may end up cutting the present-day narrative altogether. I’m open to that, though it would be painful to toss out all that work. I’ll do it if it makes the story better for the reader though. One thing I learned from one of my editors when I was a newspaper reporter was this: The reader is the only thing at stake here. Not me, not my precious words and not my writer’s ego.

In any case, take this all for what it’s worth. I’m just one of countless writers with an opinion. There’s no one way to write a book. I’ve discovered after finishing two and starting three more (I actually feel quite sanguine that I will indeed finish this one) that each book is different and has to be approached differently and with an open mind.

Good writing, everyone.

Yours,

A.S.

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