Some people believe that the best — even the only — way to engage with the story development process is, basically, to not have one. To just begin. Dive in, see what happens.
To — and you know this one makes me crazy — just “let the characters speak to you.”
Okay, whatever floats your critique group chit-chat. If that works for you, that’s great. If it doesn’t, it explains a lot. Including why it takes some writers ten years between novels.
I’m going to send you now to an article from the online version of “The Atlantic,” which may or may not be connected to the esteemed magazine, I have no idea. It’s an interview with Andre Dubus III, who is an A-list famous branded author. One who uses the F-word a lot, which may or may not be a window into how crazy and angry this business can make you.
Or, simply proving that you don’t need to manage your hubris to become successful.
If you’re one of those who listens for their characters to take over your story, you’ll love this. You’ll hear a certain flavor of validation.
But… we hear what we want to hear.
Because buried in Dubus III’s advice to start swimming in the waters of creative chaos is a truth, a cautionary yellow flag of acknowledged wisdom. And on that count, he ends up completely aligning with what I believe to be the truth about the creative process, at least as it applies to the writing of a story. And that is:
You will have to rewrite. You will have to rewrite extensively. You might just find yourself rewriting that story for years. And you may never find your way out of that jungle, a jungle which you might claim is pure bliss. That’s what you risk, what you sign up for, when you develop a story in this fashion.
There is, I believe, another way. A better way. Not available to all, because — like any discipline — you have to submit yourself to it. Diving in is easy, it requires nothing of you. It is a commitment to the bliss of getting lost, versus the outcome of discovery. Some writers just can’t go there. Others just like waxing eloquent about the great pain of finding their story.
Very few of those get famous. Thing is, when they do, newer writers in particular listen. Those bearing the scars of trying this for a few decades are quicker to filter out the truth.
Read the article HERE. See how well you recognize that truth. And how it sits with you.
One thing I’ve never said (though I’m accused) is that there is only one way to go about this. I am saying that there are consequences attached to our preference and need with regard to our chosen process.
Which is why so many writers end up alcoholics, or crazy, or dead.
Here’s the unspoken truth of any process: once you get the story right, however you get there, it will look a certain way, it will cover certain bases. That’s just true. If it seems romantic and noble to ignore those targets and immerse yourself in the bliss of blind wandering, if that’s your process…’
… the end product doesn’t care. The standards and criteria and architecture of a good story don’t care.
They just are.
And we get to choose how we get there.