A blank page.
That’s what all authors begin with.
Pristine white, apart from the blink of the cursor, flashing like some kind of Morse Code challenge.
Come on, it says, amaze me. Thrill me. Fill me with wonder.
Sometimes though, the author stares back, knowing that filling anything with wonder is just not on the cards. Not today, thank you.
I’m often asked the question, “Do you know your ending before you begin?”
The answer is always, “Sometimes.”
Let me give you an example – I know how my current Work in Progress ends. I know who did it. I know what’s going to happen to that person.
It’s getting there that’s the problem.
You will have guessed that I’m not a planner. I don’t meticulously work out the book ahead of time. I don’t do chapter breakdowns. I don’t have a white board. I don’t have cards.
I do have lots of Post-It notes on which I scribble character names, ideas and aide memoires as I write. Not to mention phone numbers, names, computations and other notes which I often incomprehensible, my handwriting being on the chaotic side of legible.
My writing approach is just as chaotic and I wish I could take the time to really think about the plot and characters.
The thing is, I want to get on with it and all that preparation seems to me – well – too much like work. Also, I want to have a sudden epiphany that will surprise or even shock the reader as much as it surprises or shocks me that I thought of it in the first place.
Here’s an example – I didn’t know I was going to kill off one of the main characters in my first crime novel ‘Blood City’ until I actually did it. I also didn’t know the character who pulled the trigger was going to turn out to be the big bad. Had I planned that ahead of time the delicious pleasure of going all Game of Thrones on Glasgow crime would have been denied me. In my mind, at least.
The opposite also happened – a character I’d planned to kill off survived to die another day, in another book. All spontaneous, as I wrote, in the moment.
Now, planners might get the same thrill as they plot it all out, I don’t know. I’m too eager, or perhaps too lazy, to sit down and try it.
When writing ‘The Dead Don’t Boogie’, the first of my Dominic Queste thrillers, I set out to follow Raymond Chandler’s advice about whenever things are dull, have a couple of guys kick the door in with guns in their hands. I knew roughly what my protagonist was going to be, although I added layers as I wrote. I knew he was searching for a young girl in a seaside town in Scotland. I knew there would be other people searching for her.
What I didn’t know was why.
I was well over half way through, moving from one plot twist and action beat to another (let’s just say a LOT doors were kicked), when I realised I’d have to decide what the hell was going on. I did work it out and it required some additional scenes earlier on but hey – that’s what second and third drafts are for!
Would I recommend my approach? Actually, no. Deep down, I may even grudgingly agree that planners have the right idea.
Am I going to change my approach?
Hell, no. I’m WAY too impatient to do that….