Or the ending to your story? I thought I could see it clearly. So clearly, that four chapters into The Jakarta Pandemic, I decided to write what I thought would be the last chapter, or final conflict of the story. What a waste of time. Well, I shouldn’t say a complete waste. I kept a few elements of the scene for the final draft, and writing in general is rarely a waste, but I took a two-week detour (yes, that’s how long a chapter used to take me…part time) from a solid writing stretch. I’m glad that a writing genie didn’t appear and laugh at my face as soon as I finished it. I would have been pissed.
Instead, it took me months to figure out that this chapter just wouldn’t fit into the story as written, which was fine. Though I remember being a little disappointed, and possibly angry when I took a look at the chapter’s word count. I learned a valuable lesson from this, and of course, probably reinforced a bad habit. Let me explain.
The good first:
1.) I’ll probably never jump ahead and write a complete scene or chapter again. I’ll still wake up in the middle of the night and take detailed notes about what I might write, but I won’t spend two weeks on a scenic detour again. For those of you who have read The Jakarta Pandemic, or anyone (it won’t spoil the story), I have attached the “detour” so you can see how differently things appeared to me in the beginning. Alternate ending
2.) Since this was my first writing endeavor, I experienced something that I had only read about in articles and books about writing craft. This sounds way more dramatic than it should…sorry. I got my first, good taste, of a story and characters taking on a life of their own. Now this may sound cheesy, but I arrived at a point where I could no longer force the characters or storyline exactly where I wanted to go. It was still going in the cardinal direction I had chosen, but the details were up for grabs. I no longer knew, with certainty, who would survive the pandemic? I didn’t know which neighbors would turn out to be allies or enemies. It was a great feeling. Not that I had been chained to a structured plot (far from it), but I finally understood what so many other writers have described. Like experiencing “runner’s high” for the first time, or the “green flash” seen at sunset over a calm, cloudless ocean.
As an aside, I spent two years on board one of our Navy’s finest warships and many, many days at sea…and I can bitterly report that I have never seen this mythical flash, though I’ve heard and read about it. I have even supposedly missed it while tending to more pressing matters on the bridge (in plain view of the horizon).
This experience reinforced my innate disdain for using an existing, planned and structured approach to writing. I know it can help, to a certain degree (see, my own prejudice seeps through everywhere on the topic), but I couldn’t drag myself to do it for the first novel, and….you know the rest.
A good friend and writer has given me a few excellent resources, which I have reviewed, but when I sit down to start plotting or structuring…I get a few minutes into it before staring off into space. I inevitably open the “current novel” file and start to work on the new story instead. Admittedly, I do use a time line, lists of characters and abundant notes…but not much beyond that.
So, enough about me. What do you do as a writer? As a reader, what are your thoughts?