If you’re a fan of Dean Wesley Smith, then you’re probably familiar of his “writing into the dark” concept.
And if you’re not a fan of Dean Wesley Smith, and you’re a reader or writer, get over there to his website now and start working on your fandom. Because the man has a lifetime of experience (purt’nea, at least) writing and selling fiction, and he has some fine ideas that make a lot of sense to the “writer” part of my brain.
Back to “writing into the dark” — it’s one of Smith’s concepts that I struggle with, because I’m pretty methodical in my day job and in my life in general. And, if you want to replace “methodical” with “uptight” … well, you wouldn’t be wrong.
So when I go to write a novel, and even a short story sometimes, I have to — have to — spend a little time outlining the thing. Nothing too extravagant, but I …
- write a high-level synopsis
- pick a basic story structure
- write a synopsis for each story point
- expand each story points into chapters
- write a synopsis, or beat, for each chapter
When I’m done with that, I have 15 or 20 or 25 or however many chapters I see my book having, usually as individual docs in Scrivener. And in each on, I have a sentence or two, maximum, to tell me where I should be going when I crack open the old editor on a given day.
It works great for me in terms of filling out the story and actually getting the book done. It’s a lot like the project structure I might use in other walks of my life.
And that’s where I clash with writing into the dark, which, as I understand it, entails learning sound story structure, grabbing the basic idea for a novel that’s eating at you (we all have them), and then … just … writing.
No outline, no beats, no synopsis.
Just you, your ability and knowledge as a writer, and the keyboard or pen pencil or whatever implement you choose.
It’s beautiful, and I like to think of art happening this way.
I’ve done this, too, with some short stories. But novels? Not yet, at least.
However, starting with a sentence or two in a chapter that needs 1500 or 2500 or 4000 words leaves a lot of leeway. And,, the more I write, the more I find my writer me making use of that leeway, pushing the characters and the storyline to places I hadn’t quite envisioned.
So, today, on Day 13 of NaNoWriMo, I started with a chapter beat for my next Dummy Malloy book and then stumbled a little … and then just wrote the next sentence … and before you knew it, I was writing into the dark.
All the way to a 3000-word chapter that I thought would be about two-thirds that size. And some things changed, too, enough that I’m going to have to massage my beats for the next few days to accommodate for Dummy’s new reality.
So, am I ready to give up outlining and beats and planning in exchange for into-the-dark writing.
I’m too wound up, at least at this point in my life, but I can always change.
Just like Dummy Malloy.