Plotting It? Winging It? Faking It?

I write short stories any way and every way I can. These are very short stories I’m talking about. Anywhere from 2,000 to 10,000 words.

Least of all I plot. Only once in a while will I outline the plot points from beginning to end. I’ll rely on it when the story hits me in so much detail that it’s the only way I can keep up with it. It’s a great way of letting it rip, narratively speaking. Forget about the quality and finer details. Just get it all down, recording every “what happens next” until it’s exhausted, until there is no more “next.” Technically speaking, it’s the only sound way to attack a story. If you know where you’re going, you can set it up, augment it, point to it, point away from it. You can even change it.

But I do wing it plenty. Maybe that’s because I’m plugging out a considerable volume on deadline. Maybe, too, because I’ve been getting away with it. One of my personal favorites began merely with an opening line, an entreating hook I just couldn’t resist. The rest of it wrote itself, so to speak, in one sitting. Sure, I lucked out that time.

On another occasion, I didn’t make out so well. Not at first. I had a terrific set-up, plenty of punchy dialogue, and some swell contrast of characterization. But where was it all heading? Sure, I had the resolve in general, but not the specific. The ending lacked the exclamation point. It didn’t come to me for days. But I happened upon it eventually.

Improvisational theater teaches that there’s always a response. There’s always a comeback, a reply, always another reaction to be found. Maybe that’s the real foundation of my technique, or lack thereof. Maybe I should be writing on stage.

You have to work with confidence. You’ve got to trust your head, your heart and your fingers. For now, I’m trusting myself to know when I need to outline and when I can just let it spill out. Either I’m that good, that cocky, or, if I’m real lucky, some of both. Maybe that’s the only way to be, whether I’m fooling myself or not. Sure.

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