I encourage you to read this post even if you think you’ve heard it before. Especially if you don’t get it. I’m coming at it from a new direction.
When I was a GED/college instructor, and later when I taught writing seminars, I soon found that not all students “got it” when I approached a topic from a certain perspective.
So I soon learned to gauge student reactions, most notably their eyes or the general look on their faces.
When I saw that some didn’t understand, I came at the topic again from a different direction. I like to think I did so seamlessly.
After the second or third iteration, new segments of students would nod or smile (or both) and the little light in their eyes would come on.
It is in that spirit that I revisit this topic.
As I write this, I’m about to return to my WIP novel for the day. As I was considering that, I felt invigorated.
Because I’ll be writing off into the dark. (I added “off” because somehow, some folks equate “writing INTO the dark” with “writing IN the dark.” Not the same thing.)
The thought that I would be writing off into the dark invigorated me because I won’t be going to the novel with any preconceived notions.
I won’t be writing things I know the characters will say. I won’t be writing solutions to problems the characters encounter. I won’t be writing any preformulated “this happens, then that happens” scenario. All of that is just massively boring.
Frankly, I don’t have a clue what’s going to happen beyond an alien force landing on Earth.
And the lack of knowing is invigorating. It’s exciting.
I’ll sit at the laptop, put my fingers on the keyboard, and write whatever comes.
Not what I want to write, but what the characters do and say. Not a preconceived setting, but what the characters allow me to see of the setting.
For example, I might finally be allowed to see the interior of the bridge on an alien ship. I might be allowed to see other areas of the different kinds of ships if the characters feel they’re germane to the story they’re telling.
And that’s the whole point.
The characters are down in the story.
I can choose to be the Almighty Writer on High, controlling what each character says and does with my Mighty Hand and tell exactly the same story others have told countless times.
Or I can resign as General Manager of the Universe, drop off my self-installed pedestal, roll off the edge of a trench and drop into the story.
Then I can get up, dust off my jeans, and look aghast at the characters who are pointing at me and laughing quietly.
I’ll say something like “Hey, I’m just here to record for posterity what you guys do.”
They’ll discuss it briefly — if they aren’t under fire — and then they’ll gesture with a “well, come on” motion and take off through the story.
And I’ll keep up as best I can, scribbling furiously as I go and hoping I don’t miss too much.
And at the end of the day, I’ll be the first “reader” to be completely entertained by these exciting, strange new folks.
And I have ZERO idea what they’re going to say or do, so how can any other reader possibly foresee it? As Bradbury said (I’m paraphrasing), “How can you hope to surprise the reader if you don’t surprise yourself?”
Try it. You’ll love it. I promise.
‘Til next time, happy writing.