November 11th, 2014

I have to admit I did not see this coming.

Okay, that's a lie. Last Friday I saw it coming, but even then it seemed a real stretch. But I can truly say, "I did not see this coming," if I go all the way back to the beginning of this year's PBWQ. I mean, even now it's hard for me to believe that as I started tapping away at the keyboard at 12:00:01 am on November 1, 2014, I still had no idea what my story was.


"How could you possibly not know what your story was?" you ask incredulously. And you deserve an answer. Normally I would sum up, but today I have time to explain.

When I say I don't know what my story was, that's just shorthand for: I had not yet come up with a detailed, bullet-proof, sensible plot. I knew generally what it was about. I knew who my protagonist was, and the setting, and how the story started and (most importantly) how it ended. But all the important pieces that glued all that together were missing.

Think of it this way. When I set out writing ten days ago, my story looked like this:

  • Restless boy on farm wants to see the universe.
  • Receives a Call to Adventure.
  • Meets an old man who helps him cross the threshold from the Ordinary World to the Special World.
  • Learns that the forces of evil are on the move.
  • He gets by with a little help from his friends.
  • Gains mystical powers along the way.
  • Finally, he uses all his gifts (knowledge, friends, and powers) to defeat evil.

So you see, there's definitely a story there. It's your basic Hero's Journey. But look what it lacks:

  • Why is he on the farm?
  • Why can't he just leave on his own?
  • Who is the old man and how does he help him to cross the threshold?
  • Who or what is working against him?
  • What are these mystical powers? How do they work? Why doesn't everyone have them?

Once you answer questions like these, the story becomes that much more fleshed out. Now you have your goals, your antagonist, your conflict, and climax all well-defined. But you're also not done. Because answering the above only opens up more questions:

  • What does the farm look like? Iowa? A swamp? A jungle? A desert?
  • What does the Threshold look like? Is it a wretched hive of scum and villainy?
  • How exactly does he develop these powers? Does it make sense in the overall story, or do they just magically come into his possession with no plausible explanation?

And as you continue to drill down there are further and further levels of detail:

  • How exactly are the space-clarinets designed and played?
  • Should the band be playing Daft Punk or perhaps something closer to dixieland jazz?
  • How many different species are in this bar and what do they look like?

Let Me Sum Up

So where did I end up on this continuum? In short, I now know everything I need to know about my story to actually turn it into a real, readable manuscript. And that's saying a lot. No, I don't yet know what the space clarinets look like. But I do know that there are space clarinets and what purpose they serve.

All my characters and their backgrounds and their personalities are fleshed out. All the scenes are now defined and in the right order. The story pace is finally apparent. About two thirds of the way through I realized my intended ending would no longer work and now I have one that's twice as good.

Next Steps

  1. Walk away from it. It has to rest a bit.
  2. Print it out and read it.
  3. Make notes: what worked, what didn't?
  4. Identify darlings. Kill them.
  5. Then begin writing the actual manuscript. Because what I have is definitely not a manuscript. It's all story, but no storytelling. It's all the facts, but without the emotion. It's bereft of scenic details and sweeping descriptions. Some of my characters are actually named So-and-So. Many of my places were given real-world city names until I could come up with proper in-universe names.

If I can even begin #5 by the end of this month, that would be a big win. If I could finish #5 by the end of February, that would be an even bigger win. But for the first time ever, that no longer feels like an impossible pipe dream.

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3 Responses to “Winner”

  1. Jason Dunn says:

    Print it out and set it aflame and dance, hooting and cheering, around the text. (You hit Save during the writing, right?)

  2. Biz says:

    So happy for you Charlie! I wish I could give you my gift of a job where I don't actually do much work and donate those hours to you!