I am about half way through my novel-in-progress, The Eye of Krasis, and have gotten bogged down in the dreaded swamp of the sagging middle. I don’t know where the story should go next. I am more of a pantser* than a plotter, so I’m happy to let my characters tell me what they’re going to do next. But I feel a certain responsibility as the author to have some idea about where the story is going.
I was gasping away on the stationary bicycle in the work room, reading Story Trumps Structure by Steven James, when ran across this quote by the inimitable Anne Lamont:
- You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard.
This comes from her book Bird By Bird, which is ostensibly about writing and the writing life, but as is often then case with Lamont, wanders into meditations on life itself.
An author doesn’t have to see where the story is going. The characters will tell him, one step at a time. He just has to listen to them; trust them. I have already written the last scene to The Eye of Krasis. And I have several key scenes in mind that the characters haven’t gotten to yet. But then, they may not get to any of those scenes. I will throw obstacles in their path to nudge them in the direction I want to go, but here’s the thing about characters that have taken on a life of their own: they sometimes react in unexpected ways. Those are the times when writing becomes exhilarating.
Life throws obstacles in our path. Sometimes our own reactions surprise us. Like the time the college I was teaching at closed its doors due to financial difficulties, and I found myself and my young family stuck in Western Massachusetts in the middle of a New England winter with no income. Two opportunities soon presented themselves. The first was in a little town in Virginia. The second was in New Zealand. So off to New Zealand we went. I never could have planned that.
* For those of you who are not writers, a pantser is a someone who doesn’t spend much time planning out a novel, preferring to give his creative side free reign to go where it will; a plotter is someone who carefully plots out the entire novel before he starts writing, and tends to stick with his plan. Writers generally fall somewhere on the continuum between the two.