What Comes After Once Upon A Time April 18, 2013

The Intrinsic Nature of Following Your Instinctive Writing Process

Walking the thin line of explaining a writing process without having to issue a spoiler alert for the book from whence the example comes, I wanted to illustrate a writer’s phenomenon that is not unique to me, but seems almost other worldly to some writers.

On the fly, I changed a plot line’s conclusion. I completely changed the who and how of the main bad guy’s death, how it was accomplished and then discovered.

Recently in the closing days of finishing BOXMAN, the seventh novel in the Black Book Investigations series, I inserted a scene that at the time I knew would fit and allow me to disclose a few bits of information and expand some character context. It also did something I was not expecting.

To get the main character, Michael Grant, to this location (his old homicide unit) I had him bring cheesecake to his old sergeant who had been a no show at a buffet Grant had thrown days before. I had not previously described the evening or who was or was not there. So I hit on the idea of his old Sergeant not having been in attendance and Grant goes downtown to the cop-shop to see how he is doing and give him a gift of food. The bit of information I wanted to share was Grant’s visit that previous weekend to Death Row inmate Stuart Marquis, a continuing antagonist in the series.

Almost as a throw away I had Grant sit at his protege’s (Homicide Detective Jim Jamison) desk at the PD and write a note as a pretext to looking on the detective’s desk for any clues Grant might glean. (I, of course, intended for him to find the DNA lab result of a blood drop found in Grant’s stolen Jag after he had been brutally attacked and left to die. Grant finds this information along with a name of the ‘blood donor’ and his attacker’s whereabouts.) I had Grant write a note, fold it, and leave it on his desk, then I write that Jamison’s new partner Raef comes in and finds Grant at Jamison’s desk. I have Grant give the note to Raef who later makes sure Jamison sees it.

At that moment I finished writing the scene, the note is literarily and literally blank! Oh, Grant ostensibly wrote something, but I didn’t. I did not imagine Grant writing anything other than something about his visit with Marquis; I thought it, but I didn’t write. So neither I nor the reader knows what the note says.

The main purpose of the scene was accomplished with Grant finding a clue to his attacker, who Grant does not know at this point is the key to a murder, his attack, and the connection to property stolen in another main plot line. As you can see the note, itself… had no significance!

Later I have Grant and Darrow confront Grant’s attacker, get him to confess more than he realizes. As I had not yet worked through this plot conclusion, I was wondering how to wrap it up… what does Grant do? He knows that Jamison was going to be looking at Grant’s attacker, but Jamison hasn’t yet acted and would have no clue about the attacker’s other crimes. Grant, after ‘interviewing’ his attacker now has the information to get his attacker arrested, but the way it was obtained might be ‘questionable’. 

So now my question was how does Grant accomplish getting his attacker arrested? Take him down to the station, or let him go and give Jamison all the info and let him work it out?

I suddenly remembered ‘the note’! So I go back to that page and add content to the, in fact, blank note. Essentially I make it an invitation to Jamison and Raef to meet later in the day at Grant’s office… Thus, if all goes as planned, Grant will have his attacker with him and can lay the predicate for Jamison and Raef to take Grant’s attacker into custody. Problem solved!

Was it just serendipity that I used a blind, dead-end ruse to get Grant to Jamison’s desk. Was it simply fortuitous this, impromptu ruse of a plot device, would later turn out to be an essential plot detail to move characters into position and dramatically affect the outcome of a plot line? Or was it the subconscious writer’s meme in action which I have often experienced and speak about to writers that a) it is not necessary to know the entire alphabet of your story’s arc; the “A” to “Z”. It is a good thing to know them, but b) with practice, if you know “A” and even have an inkling about “Z” your writer’s brain will help you to fill in the other letters

We all know stories have a beginning (which I will represent by “A”), middle (represented by “M”), and end (represented by “Z”). Some methodologists suggest that the place to start a poem or story is in “the middle” as a way to engage the reader. In novels this is sometimes done by the use of prologue, foreshadowing events to come. However, even if you were to start in the literal middle of the your story, that becomes your beginning. Thus, unless your process is to plot-out or outline every detail of your novel or story before you start, then I suggest that you not be afraid or reluctant to use these seemingly serendipitous gifts.

The point being, once you’ve started writing, your fictive brain will or can, with practice, supply the next letter in the alphabet of your story arc whether it is the very next letter after “A” or “M” and will take you all the way to Zed. I find this process seamlessly organic to the story arc and emotionally fulfilling. Trust your writer’s instinct, intuition, imagination to ‘remember’ what is next; it was after all, once upon a time…

©rjs robertjsadler 4.18.13


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