Is it a scary blank page with a blinking cursor, or page full of opportunity? Maybe it’s a page that can easily be filled from the very detailed outline that has been the past three months in the making, or one that will be scribbled all over by the meanderings of little more than an enthusiastic mind and some fast fingers.
I’m in the fast fingers camp. I don’t think too much – sometimes not even enough. I just hit the ground running and I’m ready to go. A story forms as I write it, which sometimes does really awful things to those words that have gone before, leaving them twisted, broken or deleted.
My favourite part of the process is using my walking time (I have a lot of that) for a good game of “What if…?”. It’s easy to play. I start off by chewing on my latest issue – writing with so little direction leads me into plenty of blind corners – and I gradually try to work my characters back out.
For example, I have right now, this very minute as I’ve been typing here, taken a poor, innocent fictional being and dropped her in the middle of the ocean. The sea is quite calm today, but she can’t swim. I don’t even really know how she got there, but how will I get her out?
Well… what if a boat arrives just at the right moment? That’s a bit coincidental, and a little too simple. I’d like to think I’d have seen that passenger ferry on the horizon and chosen a more secluded spot to abandon the character in. So, if not a boat, are we going to let her slip beneath the water? And what if she sees a whole different world down there? What if there are little streets and people walking about? Not swimming, because they’re not mermaids or fish people… just walking, like they have no idea that they shouldn’t be breathing. (By the way, if water was rich enough in oxygen, we could all breathe it, but that’s beside the point at this moment).
So we have a world beneath the water where people are walking about. How deep are they? They must have sunlight, right? Do they look like people? Like our fictional character? Maybe their whole city is covered in a giant bubble? Are they part of a scientific experiment for humans colonising other worlds? Or are they magical and only Sadie – I just named her – can see them? So, Sadie has slipped down beneath the waves, and she can’t swim so she’s just sinking. Is she bouncing off their bubble all the way down to the see bed? What if someone sees her? What if the someone who sees her lets her in to the bubble? Let’s go further – what if they illegally let her in? Sadie’s inside, half drowned, has just discovered a group of people living on the sea bed, and is illegally being sheltered in their world.
The blank page isn’t looking so blank, now, right?
Sometimes, when I feel a particular spark of discipline, I attempt to restore some order to my writing so I’ll try to think ahead and I’ll end up with a vague group of points that I want to hit in my plot. So Sadie’s story might start as:
– Sadie in the sea, drowns
– Discovers bubble of people
– Let into bubble – Adam – hides her
– Sea people are dying
– Sadie can save them, but mustn’t be discovered
– Romance with Adam?
– Sea people have evil ruler?
– Is evil ruler known to Sadie?
The later points become question marks as they are more flexible and are more likely to be moved or twisted into something else. Those aren’t the best examples in the world but there is an 18 month old around my legs who doesn’t fully approve of Sadie getting this much attention.
Sadly, this is not too far from my actual writing process. Massively undisciplined, sometimes stressful, but quite a lot of fun.