I just tweeted the following: “Good news: Vlad just figured out what’s going on in this book. Bad news: Now I have to.”
That is, in fact, quite literally the truth. When I’m working without an outline, which I do fairly often, one of the joys is the trip into the morass of plot hoping for (and counting on) the answers to appear. They usually do, though it can be more or less painful to pull them out depending on how big they are and what part of my anatomy they’re stuck in. But what I just became aware of, and find kind of interesting, is how I get into this position of suddenly needing Answers.
The thing is, dialogue drives things for me, because I just love it. By “drive” in this case, I mean that the creation of tension, and its release, are both usually marked, if not determined, by who says what how. I know that sounds pretty abstract, but in practice it’s quite simple. Today I was merrily plugging along, with Vlad in conversation with someone who may or may not have some of the answers he needs in order to figure out What’s Going On, when I suddenly wrote the following:
“Oh,” I said. “That’s it.”
Yes, Vlad suddenly got it. I, of course, had, and still have, no idea what he just got. So, why did that happen? Because the moment was right. Because of all of my instincts told me that, in order for the story to have the right feel, that was exactly the point when he needed to have a revelation about Stuff. I wasn’t consciously aware of that until I’d written it, but as soon it showed on the screen, I knew.
I want to make several points here: The most important is, that once I figure it out, that might all change. That is, there is no guarantee that that moment will still want to be in the final version. It is also very possible that, when I do figure it out, and keep moving forward, it’ll change entirely. Working without an outline means extensive revisions; sometimes wiping out pretty much everything you’ve done. But the point is, it keeps me moving, it keeps the story moving, it keeps the emotional tension at the pitch I want it, and it keeps me fascinated and delighted with it as I work.
I do not think this is inherently a good way to work; nor is it inherently bad. But letting dialogue control the emotional feel, and letting the emotional feel, in turn, control the plot, is one way to get there. From here, I have many approaches to how to get me caught up with him. I might keep writing and see if the next line, or paragraph, or page gives it to me. I might go back and read everything I’ve done so far hoping for a clue. I might stand up, pace, scowl at the dog, and mutter until I figure it out. Or I might write another blog post on writing process in hopes the idea will get frustrated at being ignored and come popping out to find me. We’ll see. For now, back to work.