Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Spark on the Lam

If writers are the stars in our own TV police procedurals, then drafting a novel is like hunting down a fugitive in a back alley. Okay, we're probably not as tough as cops, but bear with me as I try to flesh out the simile!

There’s always some inspiration (clue) that initially sparks us: an image, a bit of dialogue, a character already talking in our heads, a premise so irresistible that it tingles in our fingers as we type.

So we go after it. At the beginning of the chase it all seems so clear and so doable—it’s right in front of us…. Almost grabbable…

Of course, that’s usually when the fugitive ducks around the corner and disappears and we’re left holding onto his hoodie.

That’s the darkest before dawn moment, when the cop (writer) wonders if they’ll ever solve the case. When we're so mired in the uncertainty of the process nothing is obvious anymore and nothing seems to be working. It’s even more difficult to keep up the pursuit when we no longer know what we’re looking for. (If you really want to make my TV cop comparison complete, we’d probably also be coping with in some personal problems, a failing marriage or some other crisis here, because all the good characters have them…)

But here’s the thing. That spark we’re chasing turns out to be a red herring. It’s what we thought we were looking for until we discover something even better, something that’s right in front of our noses. When we stop going after that elusive thing and we work with what we actually do have, the cold hard evidence of what’s already on the page, the real story emerges. That's when we get our man (story).

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