Anatomy of Writing

Feb 17, 2019

Writing a story is an act of faith. I understand that some writers outline their narratives before they begin them. But, when I’ve taken that route, I find myself bored by the actual writing of the story because there aren’t any surprises left for me to uncover; if I know where I’m beginning and where I’m ending, then all that’s left is to enjoy the ride. But, if we’re honest, the ride is hunching over a keyboard and glaring at a blinking cursor that hasn’t learned a new dance move since the 80’s.

Stephen King writes. He dives into a story and lets the process figure itself out. I’ve always been more intrigued by that idea. Let’s go into a bar where we’ve got some unsightly characters and some escalating tension and see how it all shakes out. I’m curious.

But, Stephen King also notes that his ideas come in the form of “cups” and “handles.” And, what he means by that is, he’ll get a theme or an idea that’s not enough to carry a story on its own. It needs a “handle” – the characters or the twist or the purpose that completes the project.

In that way – playing matchmaker – the ride becomes a train through uncharted territory where, for all you know, the gravity is different on the other side of the window. You have to pay attention to find out. Even still, though, sometimes that train takes you to a bar with unsightly characters and escalating tension, but the only action is the characters yelling about how much they agree with one another.

So, writing is an act of faith. You dim the lights and pour the sacramental wine – maybe even play your favorite hymns to fit the mood – in hopes that you’ve set the stage for something meaningful to happen. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t.

I’m working on a story right now that I’ve written and rewritten three times. It seems that no matter what, that train takes me to the most unremarkable and forgettable destination I’ve ever seen. Whatever image that conjures up for you, go with it, but picture it again in monochrome.

I’ve mashed all kinds of characters and monsters together, and none of them have had the decency to clash with any kind of spark. So, now I find myself with about 15,000 words to be gathered in a wheelbarrow and ushered to the crypt where they’ll be stored and forgotten. The hope is that some future version of me goes digging for them one day and finds a pulse buried within them. Then, maybe a few of those words can attach as arms or legs to another project in the future. But, for right now, it’s time to dim the lights, pour the coffee, and sit down with my blinking cursor friend in hopes that something meaningful happens.

Keep it spooky,

-HvW