Writing at the speed of story

I’ve noticed that my writings fall into one of two buckets. The labels for these buckets haven’t crystallised for me yet. Not “short and long”, not “character-driven and plot-driven”, not “good and bad” – these do have some truth in them. Maybe “fast and slow”, though those words don’t describe how I write them – a “slow” piece might flow out much more freely than a “fast” piece that had to be dragged out by its ankles a word at a time. These descriptions apply more to my mental attitude about a piece.

Often I find that when writing a strongly plotted novel or short story, the plot rushes me through. These are my “fast” stories. I see the dots and I’m in a hurry to join them. My fingers furiously forge the chain of causality that is plot. I hit each scene like a pinball and bounce off in search of the next. I don’t have a metaphor for the kind of writer that I want to be, but I can tell you it isn’t “a pinball”.

Of the stories I’ve had published by others, 2/3 were not that plot driven. Yes, there was forward motion carrying the tale through the scenes, but it was not the focus of the story. In those pieces, my focus was inside each scene and on making them evocative and forceful. These are my “slow” stories. They are almost always short and I can see why: when the destination is close, I can take the journey more slowly.

My problem is a problem of tense. Writing the “fast” stories, I concentrate on “What is going to happen next?”; writing the slow, “Where am I now?”. I believe I get better writing out of myself when I hold the second question in mind.

I’m finally beginning to edit a novel that’s been languishing in first draft purgatory for over a year. The edit is hard, because this is a book from the “fast” bucket. I’m not present in the scenes. I’m in the next scene, waiting for my words to find a way to get there. They catch up; I skip on. Much of my description feels perfunctory or for pacing or to provide a floor plan for my characters to move around in without tripping over any continuity mistakes.

I’m taking my despair as a good sign – it lets me know I’ve learned things and grown as a writer over the last year or so.

There’s more to learn yet.

I must learn to linger. I must learn to stay inside a scene and run my fingers through it, taste the air, spy out the bright details.

In this way, I can create more stories to be proud of.



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