Write Both. (Decision making.)

Started by Gyppo, February 04, 2023, 05:44:32 PM

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   Write Both.  (Decision time.)

   This is more for the novelists and short story writers than the people who write non-fiction articles or manuals.

    One of the questions my writing students used to ask was a strange one.  But then so were some of my students ;-)

   Q:  If your character is faced with two equally valid choices to move the story forward, how do you decide which one to use?

   A:  The answer is either very simple, or a bit more complicated.

   If you like to agonise for hours over this kind of choice then you can simply do just that, let the choices bubble and swirl in your mind until one emerges as a clear victor.  Sometimes letting your subconscious decide overnight whilst you're sleeping will produce a clear winner.

   If you're more pragmatic and want to 'crack on', I see two choices.

   1)  Let your mind run forwards a bit until you can see the consequences of both choices.  This may well tell you one of them is a dead end.  In this case choose the survivor and write on.

   2)  But sometimes both of them will suit the general flow/thrust of your story.  In this case there's only one real answer in my mind.


   Write both.  Do your thinking 'on the page' - even if it is technically a screen -  until you have two tangible written examples to work with.  At this point the way forward is usually clear, or at least a bit clearer.

   This works because, by having it on the page, you are seeing it as a potential reader would see it.  When it's just an image in your head you are filling in any gaps or woolly half-made decisions with a mental background a reader won't have access to.

   Save the spare workings though, and stick it in your 'ideas folder' because it may well trigger something useful later.  Especially if you're writing a series character, who will often have to face similar situations in more than one story.  But putting it aside like this will 'turn it off' mentally, so it doesn't keep nagging you as a 'what if?'.

   Casting out the spurious 'choices' can be surprisingly liberating if you've been feeling stuck.

   This is the point where someone in the class usually raises the issue of productivity.  "What's the point of writing something which you'll probably never sell?  Wouldn't it be better to sift things through in your mind and only work with something which feels like a 'dead cert'."

   These students tend to be the ones who either can't/won't make time in their lives for writing, or have a deep aversion to the physical effort of writing.  Usually it's the former, and they have something else they'd rather be doing.  You may be surprised how many prolific writers find it difficult to 'get started' when the 'real world' is calling.

   In a perfect world, we wouldn't write anything which doesn't sell.   But this world isn't perfect.  You can write a piece which everyone except your targeted publisher declares is wonderful.  Or you can write something you hate, where every word is hard won, clawed painfully from your mind  but the publisher loves it.

   You can learn something from every word you write.  It's all part of that lifelong apprenticeship.

   Thinking on the page helps to clarify things, and the more you write -  over the years  - the more easily your words will fall into that potentially saleable groove.


   In summary.  If you're really unable to decide the way forward, write both.  What does a few extra hours here and there matter in the whole of your life?