{99} Writing a sloppy mess

I’ve written over five published books and 1 million words of fanfiction by doing everything “wrong”.

I wrote in another post that my writing process is basically a disorganized, sloppy mess. For instance, I come up with titles for stories first. As an example, many many (many) years ago the thought came to me: Tane Kuhn and the Encyclopediaists of Mercy Jane.

And there it was. For a while that’s all I had. Who is Tane Kuhn? What is an Encyclopediaist? Why are they encycopedia-ing for Mercy Jane?

There is, now, a very rough first draft of the first, oh, 30,000 words. Of what, I expect, will be a 300,000 (at least) word fantasy epic, with about five primary characters, including Tane Kuhn. Worldbuilding for that is immense.

It all started with that title.

When it comes to the “next step”, it seems reasonable once you have a title and characters to move on and develop a plot. Or something. I don’t know, I don’t do that. I hear it works out well for people.

Instead I tend I think of a scene, or rather, a scene just happens and I have to write it down. It may be early in the story, it may be late. Who knows! I don’t. In this case it was Tane sitting in a steam-punk-esque wheelchair on the back “porch” of large wagon pulled by mules. She was drunk and singing loudly while the mules pulled this outrageous, bright red caravan (kind of like a vardo) through a flat, Arizona-esque desert.

My job, as a writer, is to figure why she is there and doing that, and then get the story to that point and maybe past it (if that’s not the final scene, and I don’t think it is).

I weave plots as I go, based on questions like “why”, “what,” and “how.” I figured out that Tane is a kind of wild-west drug dealer with a mysterious past. She travels from town to town on the border between the desert and the steppes (this turned into “the Borderlands” and the “Tennung Steppes” respectively), cooking up her wares in her specially built conveyance.

So naturally, when I sat down (also many years ago) to write an opening scene, I wrote about a young, angry 14 year old boy having visions while washing dishes at a remote fort/keep high in a mountain range. *shrugs*

Okay!!!! Thanks, mysterious workings of the brain! I had to figure out who he was and how his visions relate to Tane (who is, literally, half a continent away from where he is) and what all this has to do with the young girl in his vision, whose skin as black as night and who held a bejeweled book open in her hands.

I mean, I still had not even figured out who the hell Mercy Jane was. I have now, of course, but it’s not like I’ve written a single scene with her in it (for reasons. GOOD REASONS).

This sophisticated technique means I write myself into corners. A lot.

The story I was working on with Kim McShane last week, The Link in the Chain, is just such a story. I have about 40k of what I thought was a novella, but I stalled on it about four years ago. Nothing fit, and I had my main character go through hell and back just to end the story exactly where she started with zero character development. It was sad. I was depressed by my own ending. WTF.

Kim — again I say, she is a Plot Mistress of amazing powers — figured out that some incidental side characters were actually focal to the whole backstory, and that subtly but profoundly changed everything. This story, when it’s done, is going to be one of my best ever.

Honestly, I’m never scared of writing myself into corners, because I know that how I get out of them is when the magic happens. I can sit on a bad plot point for a long time, but once it is unbent and laid out and corrected, everything around it SHINES.

I remember the first time it happened with a long story, which was a fanfic. I was so depressed — the ending was nowhere in sight and the way I had set up the story, everyone was going to end up dying alone (and dying young, at that). When I say I wrote the characters into a corner, I mean it quite literally — they were in the corner of a warehouse, in a shootout with a bunch of gangsters. Bang, everyone dies, there is no happy ending. Or any ending, really, other than everyone dies un-heroically and pointlessly.

I labored for a long time trying to figure out how could I keep them from getting shot.

Well, turns out, I couldn’t. But due to the nature of fandom I was writing in, I actually was able to kill one of them, have him wake up in the future, and then go back in time to save everyone. It’s an obvious fix when I look at that story now, but wow, figuring it out took a long time and several beta readers (I’m sure Candesgirl and Drayce know exactly which story I’m talking about). It is one of my most popular older fanfics, and the reason for that is totally because I wrote myself into a corner. I never, ever would have thought of that whole plot arc before writing it.

I’m like the Zen koan of writers: if you write without a plot, does a plot happen?

For me the answer is yes. This is how Wolves of Harmony Heights went from 50k to 170k words, because I wrote about characters I liked and and just let them walk freely through the set up I gave them. Early feedback is very positive, though! So I think I did okay.

Admittedly, many people think I’m a crazy person, writing the way I do, because it seems like I have zero control over my characters or my plots. And, honestly, I really don’t have control that I’m aware of.

To me, that’s what makes writing fun. Doing outlines and character sheets and, I dunno, sentence diagrams or something makes it all so tedious and boring I just can’t even get around to writing the damn thing. For me it’s like a big adventure down a road as yet uncharted! Who knows what will happen?

I don’t, and that’s just the way I like it.

Originally published at ::::KimBoo York.