Friday, 14 September 2012

When the Prose Flows...

It doesn’t happen too often, but once in a while a chapter writes itself. This happened the other day while penning the final chapter and epilogue for Eden’s Revenge. I’d just finished the second draft of the big climax chapter, and had to write the ‘denouement’ – what Mark Twain famously called ‘marryin and buryin’, meaning it’s the chapter that ties up the loose ends and brings things to a close. I’d re-read my writer’s bible, ‘Beginnings, Middles and Ends’ by Nancy Kress, and had a rough idea of what I wanted to write.

So I sat (actually I was lying down on a sofa) with my Sony laptop propped up on my knees and started typing, thinking this was going to be a tough one. But the words just kept coming out. I was thinking two lines ahead of my fingers, like a driver racing along at night in fog, only able to see as far as his headlamps permit, but going fast anyway. In the zone. I got interrupted and had to go out for an hour, thinking oh well, that was nice, but when I got back I lay down again and more words poured out. The chapter was done in two hours. I ate, wondering if I’d just written pure rubbish, then wondered if the magic spell would get me through the epilogue, which was to be three very short scenes, a page each really, with a couple of revelations and a hook to book 4 in the series. I finished it in an hour. Two completely new revelations came to me so I stuck them in.

I watched Babylon 5, had supper, went to bed, assuming that the next day I’d look at it again and say, oh well, and start massive editing. In fact I changed about ten words, corrected a few typos, and sent it off to my readers for feedback this Sunday.

I’ve had times like this before where an idea grabs me, and I type it as fast as I can, knowing I’ve ‘discovered’ something that could make a good chapter. This happened during the writing of Eden's Trial, particularly the galactic trial scene which is the basis of the front cover, when fab scenes just came to me (the vortex and the three planets; Sister Esma's head in a fist of fire, etc.) Afterwards I'd stare at it and think 'where the hell did that come from?' But this time with Eden's Revenge it was different, more measured, more even, no frenzy of creativity, just downloading from brain to computer, with me watching it happen and trying to get the syntax right without disrupting the flow!

So, as I sometimes write about creativity and inspiration in my blogs, I thought I should try and explain it. I don’t think I’d been ‘subconsciously’ thinking of these scenes, but I had been working pretty furiously over the past few months to get the first draft finished. There were six straight chapters relating to battle scenes and conflicts both in space, and on the human home-world Esperia. The final two ‘action’ chapters see several key characters, good and bad, lose their lives. Somehow all this stewed inside me so that when it came to write the final chapter, called Cracked Sky, it just flooded out. Given the characters and everything else that had happened in the book, there seemed only one possible way to end it.

I used to write ‘flash fiction’, which is the writer’s equivalent of jazz improvisation, writing on the spot, a few hundred words. I think that training also helped. It’s like surfing, staying just ahead of the breaking wave…

Nancy says you have to take a lot of time over the ending and the beginning, and the previous two books I did, spending weeks on the endings, with lots of re-writes. This time it feels different, the endings seem right. Well, I’ll see what feedback I get from my writer-readers.

In the meantime, I presume other writers experience this sometimes. Quite a rush. Enjoy it when it happens, and just make sure you’ve got your pen&paper, computer, or smart-phone handy!

Epilogue: I'm currently reading Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons (the sequel to Hyperion), and in it (spoiler coming - don't read any further if you intend to read this book) there is a writer called Martin Silenus who is trying to finish a massive opus he has been working on for two hundred years Just as he is finally inspired, in frenzied fashion, and within sight of the last few pages, he is torn away screaming and killed, his psychological pain all the worse because he cannot finish his work. 

Well, maybe I wouldn't go that far...:-)

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