07 May 2012

The Difference a Day Makes

I sometimes wonder, “If I wrote this scene tomorrow, or yesterday, what would be different?”

There’s planning to writing, but there’s also creative momentum that has everything to do with the instant I’m writing. Sometimes I talk about my characters surprising me. I don't mean they shake things up while I’m writing a plot synopsis, but within the words as they appear, while they’re discussing things with each other or performing actions within the scene.

For example, in my current project I knew two characters would meet at certain intervals and their relationship would develop according to events occurring elsewhere. I didn’t have their conversations set out, but I knew the topics they’d discuss at each meeting. I had the scenes, but not the content.

Last week I was writing a discussion that took place late in the story, and one character suddenly revealed that things had to change. He insisted they’d have to meet elsewhere, and that decision would have an important and necessary impact on the rest of the story. From my previous planning I knew the impact had to happen, but I didn’t know how, and here the character just handed it to me. He made the suggestion in a way that flowed from my fingers to the keyboard, in his own voice, and I was actually surprised as I typed it.

(If you haven't, read this post on writers' insanity. Yes.)

This was a moment of inspiration within my writing time. Not while I walked down the street and spotted a beautiful flower, or while listening to a stranger’s conversation on a bus, but within the instant I was writing. But I was only writing because I had the time and made myself sit down. I could have done something else and saved my writing time for the next day. I might have been writing that same scene at a different point in my brain-life: more hungry or full, better caffeinated, tired, rested, even happy or dissatisfied. Someone could have interrupted me just before I got there. A DM might have come through Twitter on my mobile, or the phone might have rung. All sorts of things might have affected the way I wrote that scene. And would the character have spoken up then? Would he have said the same thing?

Impossible to know, but it makes me wonder.

Photo: Who loves you, baby, by Earl on flickr


  1. I always dwell on this sort of stuff. I imagine there are days when I'd be much better at a particular Horror scene, or comedy dialogue, or have the flow necessary to string words together to express some strain of love I don't see in anyone else's prose. But, I put my faith in the power of editing. If I can't get it right, I can at least get it out and fix it tomorrow. Who knows? Maybe the me of tomorrow will be the perfect person to cut this short story up.

    1. "Maybe the me of tomorrow will be the perfect person to cut this short story up."

      I like it.

      With my current project I have to repeatedly remind myself that editing exists. I think it's because the story is so weird, I feel like it's coming from somewhere deeper inside my brain than usual, and I'm nervous of cutting off the flow. But editing is always an option no matter how in-the-moment the original words.

      Thanks, John.


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