I like to write, but rarely finish anything. Recognizing that it’s difficult to get people to read an unfinished, poorly spelled heap of random thoughts, I’m developing some storytelling rules I need to start living by.
RULE 1: HAVE A PLAN
RULE 2: IDENTIFY THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN IDEAS AND STORY
Currently I’m in a protracted period of research and planning for a story idea. Basically it’s Blade Runner but underground. In the past I’ve 1) had an idea I’m incredibly excited about, 2) jumped into writing with enthusiasm and much unfocused intensity, and 3) eventually stopped as the realization dawns that I have no real idea where the narrative is going. Having gone through this cycle a half a dozen times now I’ve decided to switch it up and actually plan out characters, locations, and a story ark prior to beginning writing. So rule one is; have a plan. Or just really, really hope your handful of good ideas will organically grow into a powerful narrative during the writing process. So for me, that means; have a plan.
RULE 3: SHUT UP AND DO IT RIGHT
So, it’s cool right? I’ll just plan out the story in a simple outline and it will be the sturdy skeleton that all the dialogue and descriptions will hang on. Because logically, writing a 10 to 20 page outline has to be easier then penning an entire screenplay or book, right? If this were math then yes. Yes it would be. But having begun that process over 6 months ago I’ve realized why my previous attempts had all ended with my staring at a monitor, feeling entirely confused. It is because I don’t really have any idea what I’m doing; as it turns out, creating a logical and entertaining narrative is damned difficult, and the length is kinda negligible. So rule two is; identify the difference between ideas and story.
At first glance, rule 2 is much easier then rule 1, because it doesn’t require that I actually create anything. Awesome. So I’ve been reading books on how to develop narrative, books on how the narratives I love were developed, listening to podcasts on how creative type’s plan and execute their work, and reading some sweet wikipedia re-caps of my favorite movies and books. This has been fun, and awfully informative. Time flies though, and looking back over the last couple of months I think I’ve written a total of 2 pages of outline. And about 75% of that was last weekend. So while I’m thrilled that I’m actually figuring out some of the story, I’m wondering if I could have spent that last few months just writing instead. What unexpected gems would I have unleashed if I had been creating instead of researching? Why am I bothering to pursue the academic when I could be gifting the world with my raw, uneducated art? And that brings us to rule 3: shut up and do it right. Art isn’t alchemy, and there’s a balance to strike between my enjoying the thrill of creation, and delivering something palatable to an audience. Simply put, I want to write because I have stories that I want to see read by other people. BUT to get to that point I have a great deal of learning and thinking to do. So while the writing is the really fun part of the process, for me that process needs to first include some research, planning, and the willingness to develop an actual narrative – not just a series of awesome events.
The thought behind all of this is that if you take the time up front to craft a narrative that works in a very short format, it’s likely going to work as something much much bigger. And if I’m honest, big is where I would like to be headed. I do a great deal of downplaying my own abilities, but I recognize that I have the wherewithal to learn, the willingness to change when something isn’t working, and the desire to see good narrative set to print. My stories need to be told, and I need to take that as seriously as anything else I choose to create.