See, I have three good pages. Three engaging pages of prologue that set up a really fun soon to be book. I can feel it, in my periphery as I type. I’m tweaking my voice, and I like where it’s going.
Except I don’t know where it’s going, really. I have three good pages all done, and snippets of future chapters written and stored for later. But I don’t know what the story is yet. Is it going to be dystopian? Heroic? Is my protagonist secretly immoral? She’s definitely got that edge about her, in the five thousand words I have so far.
I spoke to my new writing buddy Christian, and he showed me a printout he had just done containing dozens of questions to ask a protagonist. He said that asking all the questions ahead of time, or asking a different question each time you sit down to write, might help give a better idea of what the character wants to do when presented with the scene you set. That may be true, but right now my difficulty is not with my new leading lady, nor her script. My issue is with the scenery – the flats haven’t been spiked. The curtains are flying incorrectly. I’m not even sure if there’s supposed to be a table when the show opens or not.
(I’m mixing my metaphors now.)
Times like these, I usually turn to Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, a book I feel every writer should own and read on a regular basis. Except I didn’t bring a copy with me to Japan, and while I remember most of the book, I don’t remember her exact advice for not rushing a character or a story. The only passage that is currently lodged in my memory is her analogy that finishing a story is like putting an octopus to bed. Except I haven’t even thought of my conclusion, because I’m stuck two-thirds of the way into the prologue. No, not stuck. This isn’t writer’s block. This is…forgery and spell craft. I’m trying to decide what something will be before I’ve actually formed it in my mind.
I find that freethinking exercises work best at the beginning. I give myself permission to write down every idea that pops into my head, without judgment or editing. Then I look over what I’ve done in, say, ten minutes and see if I’ve managed to come up with any interesting ideas. It’s a good way to declutter your creative space, as well as find any new leads you might have overlooked. The trickiest part is the permission – your inner editor (if it’s anything like mine) will have an opinion on everything you come up with.
Me: hmm…space pirates?
Inner Editor: That’s stupid. Don’t write that.
Me: I feel pretty strongly about this space pirate idea.
Inner Editor: Like you did about your failed pirate book back in college?
Me: Here’s a glass of mental bourbon. Relax for ten minutes, and drink the mental bourbon while I do this. Then you can tear it apart and remind me of my pile of rejection letters. Deal?
Inner Editor: Deal!
Escapism: Did someone say bourbon?
Me/Inner Editor: NO.
I know that I have to write out something for this prologue to continue. I have three ideas for where I could go, but no idea where each path ultimately leads.
Like I said, this post is pure stalling. I guess I’ll stop now, and get back to writing.