Improvising with Black Widow

In my line of work, you learn to improvise. You never know who or what is going to come around the corner and try and tear out your throat.  Keeps things interesting, at least. With my particular skill set, I’m prepared for anything. I apply that approach to my writing. One word at a time, ready for anything.

In polite circles, they call us gardeners. You’ll hear discovery writer and pantser—as in the seat of—as well. We’re the writers seemingly without a plan. We just see what happens. Writing is all about surprise and intrigue, unhindered by step by step directions as to where we go next.


I like to go in with my end game in mind. I know where the characters begin and I know how they end, but the in between is all improvised—for better or worse. It doesn't always come out the way I had in mind. The end is often completely different as my idea of who the characters are shifts and changes. They grow, they develop on their own. When I write, I start a fire and watch the world burn.

This is why I write. I never know what’s coming.  It’s an out of body experience.  Characters that I left behind show up again, with new twists. (Which has never happened in my professional life, ever.) The thrill of discovery drives the plot forward. I write knowing that each sentence, each paragraph will bring me deeper, closer to mysteries that I wouldn't have a chance to discover any other way. It's get in the car and drive sort of adventure. No maps and half the time no roads. I just do.

While drafting, I go over the last thousand words or so, trim, and get back in the narrative rhythm. Sometimes, there's less rhythm and more toddler with a pair of pots and a wooden spoon. Sometimes, I look at what I wrote and hit the backspace button until I find a suitable not-sucking point. Or rather, I copy and paste it into another document, where I store all the secrets of my bad writing. And yes, it is password protected.

But at the end of a draft, there are loose ends. There are plot holes. There are characters who show up once and never come back. I have first drafts that are such terrible messes that no amount of editing can put them polish them up. Plotters have the luxury of mapping. Pantsers have no map, and often times go down the wrong path. The first draft ends up being more like an extensive outline, rather than a cohesive story with some cleanup needed. It means starting over if you need to, knowing the plot points and character arcs well enough to complete a better draft.

Luckily, I enjoy editing. It actually becomes a problem when I’m drafting, because I’m prone to going back to the beginning to prune and polish. I spent two years of forty pages, once. I have to fight that part of me. There’s no stopping, no going back if you want to finish a draft. 

Regardless of how you draft, telling a good story is the most important part. We might write things we're not proud of. Know yourself, know your method, know how to get where you want to go. That's vital. Your journey is not Thor's journey, or Hawkeye's or Fury's. Know you, and do it. Write.


No comments:

Post a Comment