15,857 / 25,000
I changed the name of my book from Pain to Inheritance. That title may or may not stick. It’s more fitting, but still feels a bit common. I ripped off a pretty good chapter tonight, I think, and I sat down without a clue what the chapter would be about. I just knew I needed to break away from the action happening elsewhere for a moment and let the daughter have a revelation that will thicken the plot, to use a nice cliche.
I love it when the writing comes this easy. It doesn’t always happen that way. The words tonight were coming so quickly and so easily I was able to think about the process as I was writing, and how people at panels, and students in my writing classes, often ask about outlining.
As a rule, I don’t outline. A big reason is because I’m anal enough that if I tried to outline, I would want a thorough outline and writing that would leave me feeling like I’d already told the story. But, I guess the real reason is because, like tonight, I often don’t know what I’m going to write until it spills out.
Let’s take this current book as an example. I actually did make a very crude outline for it one day a few weeks before I began writing. The outline was just a few points scribbled on one side of a sheet of loose leaf paper. I quickly put it out of my mind, until I found the paper last week. In many ways, I’m so far off what I’d outlined that it’s ridiculous to say that paper is an outline for this book. The major event at the beginning is the same and the major event at the end will be the same, but the structure, which is the main thing I was outlining, is completely different.
I use what I call the sign post method of writing. I know a few major events that will happen in the story, but I don’t know how I — or the characters — are going to get from one event to the next. In this story, I knew a parent was going to shoot a boy in his/her daughter’s bedroom, and I know that before the other boys die, one of them is going to be forced to amputate the other’s leg, then they’ll eat it. And I know where we’ll end up.
It wasn’t until I sat down to write the first line that I knew the parent had to be the mother. I’d planned for it to be the father. Once I knew the parent was the mother, I immediately knew what her socio-economic status had to be, and had some clues about her own childhood. Did I know there’d be a lesbian kiss in her friend’s car later on? Nope, didn’t see that coming until it happened, but when it did, it felt completely natural for those two characters based on what I’d already written.
Tonight I decided I’d focus on the daughter at her job. I didn’t know the details of her losing her virginity until I saw them on the screen. I didn’t know I’d dredge up one of my own memories from an employee meeting at T.G. & Y. and give it to the girl. It just rose to the surface and fit the situation, so I used it.
Mystery author and teacher Carolyn Wheat called this free writing. It’s a term I like. Makes me think of those Free Range signs I saw when I was driving through Nevada with Kim in 1990. I didn’t see any grazing cattle, but the idea of an ornery old bull being able to roam around munching on whatever grass he wanted without being fenced in is a pretty nice analogy to the way I do my writing.
It’s 2:15 a.m. Lesson over.