Good problems. I don’t know why – though it probably has something to do with reaching the end of the first draft of Proper Job – but my mind is turning to aspects of the creative process. Some writers don’t like to think too hard about these things; others write endlessly about it. I’m somewhere in between, I guess, but the one mystery that never seems to resolve is this: Why does the story only get written when I’m writing it? Why can’t I plan it first?
It probably has something to do with the challenge. When you type into a blank Word document without any real notion of what you’re doing apart from genre and the ghost of a character or two, you take a big risk that the novel will wander down a blind alley and self-destruct. This certainly captures my attention and engages whatever ‘writerly’ parts of my brain I’ve managed to develop so far. For instance, with Proper Job, I’m about to start the denouement (Robert McKee probably has a number for this part of the story) and I know that I have to resolve the plot in two or three important ways. Problem: I don’t know how I ‘m going to do it. A bad solution is to wrench the plot in a new direction using a deus ex machina, but this will cause my readers to throw the book across the room in disgust. The best solution is to have the denouement occur naturally as part of the behaviour of the characters, including the history of their behaviour up to that point.
How do you do that so late in a book? Well, partly, that’s what a first draft is for. You can change stuff. But I expect things will just…well, fall into place. Something I’ve already written, months ago, will become relevant and suggest a solution. The reader – if I’ve done my job right – will think “Ah, of course, that’s why such-and-such happened!” I, however, will just be slightly perplexed as I continue writing. Did I really know what I was doing at that point? Surely not. If I’m not consciously aware of the future of the novel, how can I be unconsciously aware of it? That seems absurd. The converse would be that the plot contains a number of ambiguous points that can be reinterpreted later but I honestly think that there are very few of these. I’m careful to write fast-paced stuff, and there’s barely room in a moving plot for that sort of thing.
So, mystery unresolved. But make no mistake: if I can’t get the denouement to work, the entire book will detonate and you’ll never get to read it (notwithstanding the usual difficulties with getting it published). I am, however, confident that there’s a denouement there somewhere, because I’ve always come up with one in the past. But how? Therein, I guess, lies the insecurity of the writer. What if the strange luck stops working?