Well, Dear Reader, it’s almost 9 PM Eastern here in the Tampa Bay area. I am writing this blog post unusually late because even though I woke up early, I had a tough time getting started on today’s scene in Chapter Seven of The New Story.
Today’s scene, in theory anyway, was easy; it’s a “one week later” continuation of the scene I wrote yesterday. And because it’s a rare case of simply adapting something that really happened to me in high school – with the dramatic license to change things for the sake of the story – I knew the basic situation and what the characters were supposed to do, at least in vague general terms.
“The trouble with writing fiction is that it has to make sense, whereas real life doesn’t.” ― Iain M. Banks
I may or may not have mentioned this, but I am not using an outline for The New Story. I have a specific set of goals for the story, yes. I know where I want my characters (especially the narrator) to be when I finish the story. But I am not fond of outlines; the last time I did a real outline was when I wrote a research paper for my 12th-grade English class, and that was because I was permitted to think creatively and write a fictional scenario for a third world war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. This was in 1983, the year I graduated from South Miami High; after that, whenever I authored a research paper, I’d write the main paper first, then create an outline afterward.
For fiction, I just pick a basic premise for a story (what if, say, I put my “I-guy” in a situation where he falls in love with a girl in high school, and place a ton of obstacles so that they don’t end up together at the end?), come up with an opening line, such as “It’s quiet here. But then again, it’s supposed to be quiet,” and then keep adding more lines until sentences form paragraphs, paragraphs become scenes, scenes become chapters, and chapters end up as either a novella or novel. It’s “seat of the pants” writing, and even though I try to steer the story to a desired endpoint, I am often surprised by the unexpected twists and turns the plot takes its characters on the way from Point A to Point B.
The reason I thought today’s writing session would not be especially difficult is simple: the chapter I am writing is unusually autobiographical. Like Jim, I was a high school junior at South Miami High School during the 1981-82 school year. I sang in the mixed chorus that year, after joining the choral department halfway through 10th grade (on a whim, at that). I was tricked into singing a solo at the 1981 Winter Concert. The song I ended up singing wasn’t “Jingle Bell Rock,” but it was a Christmas standard.
Yesterday’s writing was based on how my real-life chorus teacher persuaded me to sing a solo; she knew I secretly wanted to but was too shy to volunteer on my own. So, with some cosmetic changes made for storytelling purposes, the scene where Jim gets drafted is 80% factual. It’s honest, it’s sweet, and it’s funny, even though at the time I was terrified of singing a solo in front of my peers and teachers.
Thus, when I woke up – at 6 AM, of course – I figured, “I know what’s going on with my characters in The New Story, and I know what’s going on inside at least my narrator’s mind (it’s a story told from his point of view). So…piece of cake.
Alas, no. Even though I was wide awake and functioning by 8 AM (it took me two hours to burn off the mental fog that affects my brain when I don’t get enough sleep), I didn’t start writing till 1:20 PM or so.
Of course, once I figured out what I wanted to do in that scene, the story “took over my brain,” and I wrote a complete scene. It’s short – I didn’t even reach the 1,000-word target I aim for every day when I sit at my desk to work on The New Story – but it’s a complete story, and it has a nice ending that leads naturally to the next scene in the chapter.
Anyway, that’s my daily update for you, Dear Reader. It’s now past 10 PM, I’m tired, and I want to go watch something out in the family room TV, so I’ll go for now. Until next time, then, stay safe, stay healthy, and I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things.
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