For all I’ve learnt about writing, for all that I’ve harped on about planning, character development and more planning, I can’t stop myself. There’s something about the absolute thrill of getting words on the page that I can’t resist. I have to get into it. I need to learn by doing, to traverse the maze intimately.
Having just undergone a painful series of revisions – two drafts together taking over a year – I should know better than to just dive in without a clear idea of who and what I’m dealing with and where I’m going. I have vague ideas, for sure; there is a shape of the story ready to be filled. But I know I should be fleshing all this out first, working out my pacing and devising climaxes, plotting the Hero’s Journey step by step.
And I’m doing something of this; I’ve decided to try and find my midpoint between planning and ‘pantsing’ (a horrible term that I presume means to fly by the seat of the pants). I’m writing fresh, letting the words take me, but at the same time I’m building up a spreadsheet, scene by scene, or what happens and of what consequences this brings. I’m noting the reason for every event and what my characters are doing ‘off-scene’. And I’m making random notes, ideas, thoughts and even planning scenes ahead as phase-space collapses and I get a vision of the future.
That’s the idea, at least. That’s the intention.
Still, there’s nothing like the sheer delight that comes from simply writing; from creating on the fly. You’re on a journey too. Every action and every scene must take place in its own world – and it’s down to you to make that world rich and convincing. Even just building an environment for your cast forces you to reach deeper into your creation, to understand it better and more completely.
The greatest joy, for me, comes from creating new characters from the air. My very first novel, The Ballad of Lady Grace, needed a policeman. I had my main character going into a cop-shop and he needed someone to tell his story to. Out of nothing arrived DS Cook, more of less fully formed. He became one of my favourite characters – a point-of-view character, no less – and he also brought with him his boss, DI Vaas.
In my new work (working title Oneiromancer, fact fans) I’ve just had this experience once again. I had a shape in my mind for a down-and-out caffeine-junkie with some important information to impart. I had an idea of some hyped-up wizard image – Gandalf on amphetamines – begging for coffee.
Before I got to him, however, I was writing a scene in a hostel. One of the POV characters is resident and I’m using him to show a little of the ‘ordinary world’ of the novel. I wanted a conversation to break up the mundanity and it occurred to me that Mr Twitchy could be a resident also. And, whilst trying on different shapes, the character suddenly changed sex and grew younger. Now she’s Ms Twitch and she makes me smile.
This is the joy of writing, for me. This is the thrill. You spend so much time blundering down blind alleys, feeling your way around a labyrinth of textures and emotions and mudslides. When you get a moment when the words grip you and they’re flying almost without effort – that’s when, as Pratchett said, writing is the most fun you can have by yourself.
It might all be rubbish, of course. None of this might make the final cut. But that’s what editing is for. For now it’s just time to enjoy the moment.