2. Writing Through
(iv) FROM STATIC TO DYNAMIC
I’ve owned up to being a planner. Before I start writing, I’m likely to have notes in at least four folders, on Characters, World (history, society, houses, landscapes, etc.), Story and Names. (More on names later.)
When I start writing, there’s always a shift across from static notes on Characters and World to dynamic notes on Story. The Story folder gets fatter and fatter, until it divides into three or four folders.
I love the way this happens, because it means that static ideas are realising themselves in particular events. A social practice or feature of landscape has found a place in the narrative sequence; a character’s personality has turned into a particular saying or doing.
The Story notes change too, from a laid-out plan to a series of glimpses ahead. Closest and clearest is the episode I’ve pre-filmed for writing tomorrow—that’s fully fleshed out.
Further ahead is the wave or phase of action that the episode belongs in—maybe material for 20, 30, 40 pages. It’s starting to fall into shape and sequence, but it’s still not firm or locked in.
Beyond that lie waves or phases that are more nebulous again. It’s like looking ahead in a mist, waiting for hints and glimpses to solidify in the car headlights. I’m always staring forward, eager to make sense of what’s coming. But not prematurely. The story a hundred pages ahead ought to be blurred and indefinite.
Footnote: I have my folders, and I also have notes on different colours of paper written in different colours of pen. I like cutting out bits of notes, re-assembling them and stapling them onto A3 sheets. Rituals, rituals! Maybe it’s an attempt to impose order on chaos. All I know is that every writer develops his or her own rituals, and every writer risks getting hamstrung by them. What do you do when your green-colour pen goes missing? Rituals are okay, so long as you don’t let them get on top of you.
Footnote to footnote: I wrote more on my writing paraphernalia when describing the writing of Song of the Slums on my author website at www.richardharland.net. Trays made from cut-off cardboard boxes, my new favourite 4 colour pens, my iPad for typing up on … all totally irrelevant to anyone else. More fun to develop your own obsessive compulsive disorders! But if you're curious, here's the page.