Out of My Usual Mode

A couple of weeks ago I posted the following on my Facebook feed:

Holy cow, is my writer’s brain going weird places today.

Consider this scenario which just popped into my head: Imagine that a group of Scottish environmental terrorists take over Trump’s golf resort there. They evacuate all personnel and say that they will bulldoze one hole of the course per day and then destroy the clubhouse/hotel portion itself unless President Trump endorses and supports all International climate change agreements.

The Scottish government opts to wait them out, because no lives but only property is at stake, which position is extremely popular both domestically and internationally. 

President Trump ponders his options from Trump Tower, which means that Fifth Avenue is blocked and can therefore fill with protestors, while Mayor deBlasio secretly sends in a SWAT team to rescue the guy with the nuclear football.

A friend suggests this would be a great Law and Order episode, but I see it more as a Die Hard-style series of movies starring The Rock.

I thought that posting that much would be enough to make it quit rattling around in my head, but it wasn’t, and eventually it turned into this longer piece (which I decided to publish at Medium because it’s so unlike my usual writing):

View story at Medium.com

Update (12/02/2016): I’ve now added an “Other Writing” tab to my home page and posted this story here.

On living in an alternate reality

Writing fiction is such a strange process.

I’ve read plenty of articles and books about writing fiction by fiction writers. They almost all talk about that moment when you’re writing when your characters take over the story from you and do what they need to do, so I was at least prepared intellectually for something of the sort to happen.

What I wasn’t prepared for was how much my fictional world would take over my consciousness. Sure, the characters gradually began to seem autonomous, but I figure that’s just because I’ve gotten to know them so well that the way they behave in any given situation becomes so obvious—even inevitable—that I don’t have to consciously think about it. I just have to write it down as it happens.

But more than that, my fictional world takes over my whole consciousness. When I’m seriously into the writing, it’s even better than reading an engrossing book—my fictional world becomes the universe my mind inhabits. Having to stop for mundane matters like meals and letting the dog out and paying bills and making sure my joints and muscles can still move is disorienting.

It’s rather like watching Richard Burton on stage in Camelot years ago in the scene in the second act where everything’s falling apart and Arthur escapes to the forest and recalls his boyhood when he was transformed by Merlin into a hawk and soared over the world. Burton barely moved, with his arms hanging down at his sides, but somehow, we the audience were transported, flying there with him, tilting on the breezes, wanting it to go on forever. Then Mordred spoke, and it was as though we all were shot out of the sky and crashed to the ground together.

That’s how it feels to stop writing and return to real life. My fictional world takes over my brain. When I have to take a break from it, I can’t wait to get back to what almost feels like a world more real than reality.

And yet, at the same time, I can’t wait to be free of it, to reach the stage that it will let me go, let me fully back into my real world again, to something that feels relatively normal.

It’s a peculiar sort of induced insanity.

Going Freeform

With nonfiction, I’ve always been a fairly organized writer. I never made a formal outline but I was always conscious of the shape of my work.

Usually this began as writing down a list of all the ideas I wanted to cover and then deciding how they chunked into groups. For an article or a chapter, these would be subtopics; for a book, they would become the chapters. Once I’d written some of the subtopics or chapters, I might see a better way to organize things, but until I had the basic structure worked out, I never got far with the writing.

I always assumed fiction would work the same way for me—I would need to work out the basic plot and sketch out the major characters before I could seriously start writing. It turned out, though, that until I started writing, I didn’t know enough about my characters and how they thought and behaved to figure out what they’d do until I’d written a couple dozen thousand words.

I’ve always liked that line about writing to think: “in order to know what I think, I have to see what I say.” Fiction, it seems, is a magical variant of the same idea: I have to write my characters in order to see what they’re like, and then, suddenly, once they’re down on paper, I can see what’s right about them and what doesn’t work and needs fixing, and as I write and rewrite, I see what has to happen.

I’d never have guessed I’d turn out to be a non-outliner.