Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Method For Every Madness

[Awesome artwork by the talented Leon Harmon. Visit his blog and DeviantArt gallery!]

I once read that it takes a writer ten years of work to learn to write.  I scoffed at that.  If your creative mind is brimming with story ideas and you have natural word-smithing talent, I reasoned, what's there to learn?

Three years and approaching 100 short stories later, I am humbly aware of how much I still have to learn.

Case in point:  What's the best way for me to approach a new story?

The first couple of stories I penned were by the seat of my pants.  I had ideas and I went with them.  As if by magic, the beginnings, middles and endings emerged as cohesive tales with rich exposition and suspenseful climaxes.

A funny thing happened as I delved deeper into the craft.  The magic started to fade.  Not in the end result, but in the process.  Was I thinking too hard?  Did trying to finesse the story damped the creative kindling?  I didn't have any answers.  All I knew was the honeymoon phase was over.  And the real work began.

I've attempted outlining my stories with various tried-and-true methods touted by published, award-winning authors.  I've tried working a story out from start to finish in my head before sitting down and banging it out.  Once, I began with the ending and worked my way back to the beginning.  (Not my favorite experience.)  I prefer working at a snail's pace and editing as I go, but I have tried writing a fast draft and then spending weeks editing paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence.

And here I am, with a new story idea ready to go, stuck because I don't know how to approach it.

Then last night, I had an a-HA moment during Curriculum Night at my son's middle school.  We were in a session with the Language Arts teacher who was talking about her approach to teaching creative writing.  Her students outline their idea, sketch the scene, write the first draft, then edit and revise until it's finished.  Writing 101, right?  So why the a-HA moment?

This new story is stalled because although the basics are worked out in my mind, I haven't decided the order of events.  Open on the balcony or in front of the computer?  Climactic moment happens in the apartment or out on the street?  Is the character involved in the twist a sideline character or will she join the others center stage?

If I sketch the scene first, screenplay style, I'll have the freedom of auditioning different scenarios.  Sort of like thumbnail images before the brush strokes canvas.

It's worth a shot. Who knows, maybe I'll learn this is the method that works best for me.

Or, maybe the real lesson is every project calls for its own process.  A different method for every madness.  If the opening statement holds truth, I still have seven years to figure it out.

What about you?  Do you approach every new story in the same way?  Or do you find your process changes with every project?