Day Two – Creating Stories from the Chaos of Ideas
It only seemed appropriate to focus on the topic of creating stories from the chaos of my ideas, which are all over the place, for the second day. Mostly because I’m still convinced my Hundred Days of Blogging will be more chaotic than ordered.
My process isn’t new or revolutionary, and I’m pretty sure I’ve covered as much before. I’d like to say I sit down with a concept. Some sort of message I want to get across, maybe, or an image so powerful that won’t leave my mind until I share it. Deep stuff, right?
What usually happens a sort of, kind of idea interrupts whatever I’m doing, and punches my brain right in the face. It’s all “Hey, listen to me. I’ve got potential. Are you listening yet? I need your attention, damn it.”. But the problem is there’s usually bits of it missing, or detached, so it’s really just some grotesque bits-and-pieces abomination that could become a short story, or it could end up on the Bring Out Your Dead guy’s cart. At that stage in the creative process, things are still pretty much up in the air.
I’ll use “Rebooting Everything” as the example here. Its partial idea abomination started off as the line “In the beginning, everything died”. Pretty grim on its own, but I already knew I wanted to make that into something comedic (if not, perhaps, darkly so). I sat down for step two, which is staring at a blank Microsoft Word document until words happen. This is a bit less calculated than it sounds, maybe, but it’s a method that has worked pretty well for me thus far. It usually involves me pressing the Backspace key a whole lot. The process is different for novels, of course, which require more planning than my short stories (though they do sometimes see planning, they’re usually very spur-of-the-moment). Novel-length works (or works I hope end up novel-length) typically get at least one dedicated Moleskine notebook for various bits of information I’m afraid I’ll manage to forget along the way.
As details surface, and the partial idea becomes a patchwork horror of characters, plot, conflict, and so on, I continue to write, making adjustments as needed. My focus during this stage is to help coax the partial idea into becoming a fully-fledged story, which can then frolic in the fields with similar fully-fledged stories underneath a fictional sun. The editing and major fixes come later. Usually after I’ve sent it off for publication consideration, because it’s much more soul-crushing to find otherwise-obvious mistakes once it’s too late instead of, you know, noticing them when it would be helpful.
The completed first draft requires a great deal of love and attention, finally realizing the bulk of its potential as a short story. That’s why I’m sure to close it up and ignore it for at least twenty-four hours, leaving it completely alone with its thoughts to wallow in solitude. Or maybe something less morbid, I guess. After I can no longer be patient, I read through the story line-by-line and correct any errors I find. I’ve made some pretty impressive continuity errors, especially recently, and those ones usually catch my eye a little better than some of the grammatical errors. That can be a bit of a problem, of course.
With “Rebooting Everything”, I made minor additions to the story during this phase of the writing process. I also sent it off to a couple of my beta readers (I love calling people that, it sounds so official), who found plenty of screw-ups I missed. I say plenty, but it wasn’t actually that many. I tend to see someone else finding a mistake in my writing to be the same as them finding a thousand mistakes, and I react accordingly by weeping for hours on end.
Once the weeping has concluded, and I’ve steeled myself for more work, I resume the serious editing. From here, I send it out once more to beta readers, and if things go smoothly I either self-publish the story in question here, or I try sending it off elsewhere for consideration by people who are better-known and respected as writers.
While all of that is going on, I usually have at least three other ideas beating the shit out of each other in hopes of capturing my full attention so I work on them instead of whatever project I happen to be cursing in MS Word.
Naturally, there are plenty of variations on how this goes down, and I actually have a short story that needs attention once this post is done. I like to think that every work of fiction I create, like every work of fiction pretty much any writer works on, takes on a life of its own after a certain point, and I’m just a willing conduit for it to have some life outside the confines of my brain-thoughts (which, on their good days, are a semi-jumbled mess). If the story really needs to be told, I’ll manage to complete it eventually. If not, it probably gets cannibalized by other ideas and brought back as a horrible amalgam-idea.
And so the process continues without end.