The Beauty of Blind Alleys

Blind-alleySometimes you’ve got to walk down the road a way before you find out that it’s the wrong one. I guess this is true in writing as much as it is in life.

If a first draft’s purpose is to just get it all down on paper, then the subsequent edits enable me to view the story as a whole and make sure it all makes sense. Sometimes this involves writing large swathes of words just so you can get to the end and realise that it’s all bobbins.

There’s nothing more demoralising than writing, say 10,000 words, and then realising that the whole storyline is weak, boring and dragging like a bag of sand. But, this is also the best part of editing.

If you don’t have these periods of enlightenment during the editing process then you’re effectively just proofreading your first draft. Although, grammatically this will serve you in good stead, you have to really trust the fact that the story is bang on in the first place.

One of the great pleasures I find in writing is piecing together a story in my head that turns on the lights. One of those moments when the stars all align and suddenly you’re story opens up a whole new layer of meaning.

I write comedy fiction, I’m not trying to change the world or anything, but every story has to have a point. I start with my main theme and develop characters and plots around it, but it’s only in the editing when I’ve got to know the characters inside and out that these other themes develop.

These sub-plotlines appear when you’ve taken your characters to a place where it just doesn’t feel right. You don’t know that it doesn’t feel right though until you’ve taken them there. Suddenly, the plausibility alarm bells go off and you feel wretched for a day or so, but then the light shines in and you’re off again.

So, make sure you question the avenues your characters are walking down and assess whether they really make sense. I always know eventually by the speed and boredom factors. If it takes me ages to write a passage, or if I’m just really bored, then I know it’s because I’m trying to fit a square character into a round plot hole.

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3 responses to “The Beauty of Blind Alleys

  1. Same here, Michael. A struggle of dash of boredom, and my alarm bells go off.

  2. This all seems sensible to me, except maybe the idea that “if it takes me ages to write a passage” something is not working. Writing poetry and plays, more than writing fiction, requires great attention to detail and word choice in revision, so my experiences with those lead me to not worry about taking a long time. A novel can survive flat passages, but not poems and not most plays, I think, so I am used to spending a lot of time on small passages. True, this is time-consuming, and potentially a threat against first-draft serendipity. If you are correct, though, you make a great argument for knowing the end of a novel before writing the opening. While knowing the ending might work against discovery while writing, it should eliminate a lot of those multi-thousand word dead-ends that end up deleted. Michael, have any of your 10,000 word false starts been adaptable as a short story? A failed batch of wine can make pretty good vinegar.

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