Saturday, 4 April 2015

Make it Up as you Go Along

Y'know, I've been sitting here staring at this screen for a while, trying to come up with something to write about for this blog. Usually, I have two or three things that I want to talk about over a week, and I'll work them out in my mind, and write them out for the blog, for you to read.
But that's not the case today. I've gone through a bit of a rough patch and a black dog slump for the past few days. I'm finally breaking free of that, sneaking out of my burrow to look out at the wide world and feeling better, but I'm finding that my joints are still all out of sorts, and I don't feel comfortable yet. So, while I do have ideas for posts, I'm not set to write them, instead I feel like I want to do something which is indicative of my mindset now. Unfortunately, my mindset now is "Gee, I wish I had something to write about."
I didn't want to write something I'd planned, I just wanted to ramble - as I sometimes do - and just vent.
No word of the day, today, I wanted to free-write and spill my guts on the page.

But that's when something occurred to me. See, about a little while ago I did a little interview with Terrie Relf, which is just now being published online. One of the questions she asked is "Can you describe a recent writing session for me?" and I responded by talking about writing a scene in my last post, Chapter 11 of Duke Forever, The Talladega Experiment [which you should read if you haven't yet]. I won't tell you what I said in the interview, you should read the interview, but something occurred to me as I read that post:
  "Wow, I was just making that up as I went along."

Now, yes, I was writing from a timeline, and I do have a lot of notes that guide the story and instructions for certain parts of dialogue, but no specific details. If I want dialogue that exposits one character's history or motivation, my notes usually say: "(Character) talks about their backstory". I don't know how they'll say it, I just know why. It's an odd situation, because a story could be very different depending on my state of mind or energy or any number of external factors.

I mention this because. something which has always amazed me is the idea of someone making a story up as they go along. I have enjoyed some stories, such as the story archs of "The Adventures of the Game Overthinker" (the plot begins a bit after episode 40 and he made it up as he went); the film "Big Fish" (based on a book which the author wrote off the top of his head) or Battlestar Galactica (or, y'know what? Pretty much any of the shows from this list).
I wish I could do that, it would make writing so much easier for me if I could just write and stitch everything together retrospectively. But I don't do that, I have to plan everything ahead otherwise I feel aimless. When I make up stories, I need to know how it will progress and I need an endgame.

Y'know what, full disclosure: Volume One of Duke Forever, subtitled "Transient" as I have planned it, has between 30 & 50 chapters. I actually know exactly how many, but I'm not telling you the exact numbers so that the finale can be a surprise (and so I can slip more in if I decide to retrospectively); I know what each one of them is about, I know the characters involved, the roles they will play and how it's all going to play out when it happens. In fact, since time lord regeneration is such an important part of the Whoniverse, I even know what the next incarnation of the Duke will look like.
I have planned it all out.

But, I haven't planned it out to the letter. It's weird, if I decide to now, I can easily - say - add a new companion, since that won't affect the overall story, or kill a companion (I don't want to, but I could). I can change the layout of the Lift. Or, more effectively, I can change the attitude of a character of a future story, I can reinvent motivation, alter someone's appearance, gender, sexuality, identity, species or race. I can do whatever I want.

Here's a prime example, and the reason I'm thinking about this:
In my last story, we were introduced to two men in vests, represented by a four-leaf clover type symbol. Now, in my mind's eye when I came up with this story, I just imagined Nazis, and I mean the full set: stereotypical blond-haired, blue-eyed, goose-stepping, gestapo looking guys. After all, the story was already about racism, and these guys were bad guys, that's what my mind conjured; but, when I tried to implement it in the story, it didn't make sense to me. When I imagined these Nazi-guys, I couldn't help but be reminded of a skit by David Mitchell and Robert Webb about Nazi attire. This group of characters is meant to be clever, so it makes no sense to dress that way, since it would send a bad message. They don't think they're the bad guys, after all.
So, when I got to that point in the story, I thought: "If I was the head villain, and I wanted my henchmen to wear a uniform, what would I ask them to wear?" and that's how I came up with the vest and trousers. I wanted something with a timeless class to it, but also something that presents their affluence and the formality of their position. In retrospect, I realize that they look a bit like up-scale bartenders, but that's not a point against them. I think bartenders are cool - I even went through a government-funded course to become a bartender/barista - and that aesthetic represents the ideal that these people would want to promote about looking sharp and businesslike, but also hands-on. The accents, tattoos, scars & speech patterns were added to bring a touch of brutality to their demeanour; and since they are, technically, a gang of criminals, I wanted to affect the notion of dressing up a 2000s gangsta as a 1920s gangster.

I don't know if you can tell, since I've been harping on about it for the last two paragraphs, but I'm damned proud of the way these characters turned out. Not just because it accomplished everything I wanted to do with them and more, and not because I really do think they look pretty suave as well as severe. It was because I did it on the fly, I made it up as I went along.
Once I realized that, I had an epiphany. For all the song and dance about planning and timelines and story structure, you can never change the fact that writing is an art, and rest wholly upon the artist (or artists), their state of mind and their mastery of words.

So, what does all that have to do with my blog post? Well, I dunno, but that's kinda my point. I didn't want to write this post to a plan, I just want to write for writing's sake. I wanted to make this up as I go, and I guess I did. And you know what, I think others can learn from that too. I reckon for a good, full-length story, you need to plan (if you write the same way I do), but at the end of the day, put pen to paper and go for it.
If you don't know what to write, write anyway. If you think you can't write, write anyway. Even if you don't have a story to write, write anyway. People have different methods of writing, and only by writing can you find yours. But more importantly, no matter how much you plan your writing, you will just be making it up as you go along anyway. Don't think so much, just write. As Ernest Hemingway said: "Write Drunk, Edit Sober"I don't mean you need to literally drink while writing (I've done that myself, and I don't recommend it), what's meant by that is, just go for it. Write stupid, write drunk, write now, write anyway and just go for it. Then, only in the aftermath, is when you worry about making sense of it . . . like I just did.

I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and don't worry, I'll be back soon with some posts that have more planning. In fact, I might take a few weeks to organize what I'm working on (if that comes to pass), starting after Easter holidays. So, take care, and until next time, don't worry so much about making it up as you go along, everyone else does too.

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