Finding the Something in the Nothing
“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” - E.L. Doctorow
This is one of the most accurate quotes I know of when it comes to the writing journey. And while this is very much a pantser's method, rather than maybe what a plotter's would be, it has still helped me and my mindset a lot.
I'm neither of the two extremes. I will never just go ahead and just write by the seat of my pants (I have never actually understood this expression), but I'll also have never had any success trying to completely outline and plan out every arc, every scene, every act...
I'm something in-between.
A plantser, or plotser, or even a pantotter if you will.
I like to know where I am going.
I like to understand who my characters are, and what their role in the story is.
I like to know the major plotpoints.
And as a mystery/crime/thriller writer, I like to know how the culprit almost got away with their crime.
But what about everything else? Those things will only be revealed as I start writing.
For me, the most important of those previous points are the first; where I am going.
This point is what everything else in my story hinges on.
I always want to know what my next destination is... but how I'll get there is something I have to figure out on my way there.
The best way I can illustrate this method is like this:
Imagine you're out in the dead of night.
It's pitch black.
Everything around you is just nothingness. A void. your surroundings doesn't even exist yet!
Yet... there is still something for you to hold on to; a streetlight that you can see lighting up a small spot further ahead.
That streetlight is your destination!
You stumble your way through the darkness. You might trip on a tree-root that you couldn't see before, but now you know there are trees here.
You might crash into a roadsign.
You can kind of make out the name on the sign, so you make a note of it, and you just keep going.
You might meet someone. Learn their name, who they are... They're keeping a secret, but they disappear back into the darkness before you can learn what that secret it. Maybe they'll return...
You keep going.
Always keeping your eyes on that streetlight.
You'll get lost if you lose track of it!
You try keeping the path towards it as straight as possible, but you constantly also need to adapt to the obstacles that you stumble upon along the way.
And then you arrive. You're standing in the bright circle of the spotlight, the warm light welcoming you in an embrace.
You now know what the path to this bright clearing looks like.
That path is now lit up for you.
The things you saw, the people you met, you didn't know what to expect, but you made it through it all.
But then you see another streetlight further ahead in the darkness.
Your new destination!
And you then start making your way towards it... Not knowing what the journey will bring, but you know that if you just get to that next streetlight everything will become clearer.
One streetlight at a time, and eventually you'll reach your home.
You'll eventally reach the end of your story.
This exploration between predecided plotpoints is where I often truly find my theme, the character's arcs, the setpieces... And new discoveries might result in me needing to change things.
I've had to restart my current work in progress, Project Prison, 4-, 5-, 6- times (I lost count) because I kept discovering something new.
Now, at last, I finally have a clear overview of this story. I have lit up all the streetlights and the paths between each of those. It took a while but it was worth it. Now I just need to write it as a complete narrative and not as bullet points and summaries.
When I start a scene, or a chapter, or an act... I always think about where I am going. Once I know that, then I can start writing. I start making my way through the darkness, the nothingness, finding the somethings while keeping my eyes at my predecided destination.
Step by step I'll eventually get to the elusive "the end".