Today’s writing goal seems harmless enough: Begin the rough draft of a short story I’ve had in mind this week.
But as I begin, I start to rethink that adjective . . . harmless? “Mostly” harmless, after all (that is for you, Douglas Adams fans). Getting started is always the hardest part of writing, at least in my case. I am not a great decision maker, an annoying trait not just in my writing but my personal life as well (just ask my friends when we’re trying to decide which restaurant to eat at). When it comes to writing, I sometimes have trouble making all the decisions I need to in order to actually get started.
Today, for instance. I have my story idea, which should mean I am ready to go. I want to write a story about a woman who moves into a house in a small town. As time goes on, she is repeatedly mistaken for the prior occupant of the house, an elderly woman who died recently. She is much younger than the woman who died, but all around town, people inexplicably call her by the same wrong name and ask her about her family, confusing them with relatives of the deceased woman. Things begin to get strange for our dear main character, as you can probably guess. (If you’re wondering where I got such a strange idea from, I read this news story about an adopted woman learning her original birth name after inexplicably being called by that name for years).
I have my (mostly!) outlined plan for the story, but before I jump in and write that first draft, I’m trying to decide on a few things.
Do I want to go with a first person perspective, with everything told through the main character’s eyes? What the reader is told is what she believes to be true. She could be sane, or unreliable, or somewhere in a realm in between both states, which offers some interesting possibilities.
Or maybe it should be written in third person, with some outsider or omniscient narrator presenting reality to us. A neighbor could be observing the main character from afar, or perhaps she confided in him during a moment of confusion, when she wasn’t sure what was going on in that town. Or possibly writing the story in a traditional format is best, with no fancy tricks up my sleeve, and I just present everything out for the reader as a standard tale.
When the idea for this story first popped into my head, I imagined it as a creepy story, a kind of chronicle of a woman’s descent into madness. But the more I thought about it, I began to consider maybe going for a less sinister tone and perhaps presenting the story in an absurd, dreamlike state, kind of a fantastical atmosphere. I’m imagining over-the-top characters, sort of a Big Fish, larger-than-life style. There are so many options, it is hard to choose just one, but I also want to be consistent in tone and not switch halfway through the story, as I am sometimes prone to do.
This part is where my outlined story turns into a “mostly” outlined story. What sort of ending do I want to leave finish the story with? A supernatural conclusion echoing Stephen King’s Carrie at prom or a total, edificial implosion of the house like in the final scenes in Poltergeist? Or maybe I want to end on a hopeful note. Perhaps the main character takes the initiative and exorcises the woman’s spirit from her house, or maybe takes an opposite approach, even befriending the spirit. Or she could flee the premises, leaving the house for someone else to deal with.
As you can see, my writing process can often be a weird mixture of both structured notes but also unplanned changes I make as I actually begin writing. That’s often the fun part of writing for me, believe it or not. I get an idea out of seemingly nowhere a lot of the time, but then I get to take the time to shape it into the form that I want the story to take.
Which is what I am going to do in just a few minutes, once I make a few decisions . . .