So, I started writing (in the post titled, “So … that book …”) on the novel, but then veered off into posts about COVID and sharing some book reviews. I ended the first post on the process of writing All Native noting how I really didn’t have much of a story – at least, not much of the one that my friend and publisher, Chris Armstrong, was asking for. I fudged a bit when I told him that I had written large parts of the novel. The truth was that I had written large parts of something, but it was more of an autobiography than a novel about two kids and the All Native Tournament.
In the autobiography, I had written the early scene in the book, where Nate is at a senior men’s final with his dad (fear not, those who haven’t read it: no spoilers!), as I really had been to games with my dad as a kid and have memories similar to what is described in the book. But that’s pretty much all I borrowed from the bio although, of course, I drew a lot from my memories as a kid growing up in Prince Rupert in writing the novel.
This created a challenge for me now in that I was not as far along as I had led Chris to believe, although I had bits and pieces of the tournament’s history written in narrative form, through the eyes of someone (I hadn’t decided if it was an observer or participant at that point). So, with no plot magically appearing in my head, I did the only thing I could and that was to start writing.
Now, for anyone hoping to get some very practical tips that will ensure your writing occurs in an efficient, orderly manner, you are going to be disappointed. But maybe you are like me, someone who has a hard time focusing on one thing for very long, and you want to know how to make that work. It is possible to write without a plot and outline and then, eventually, get there.
My confidence in this approach was boosted by reading Stephen King’s book, On Writing. In it, King admits that he does not use an outline – which is heresy in most writing circles. Essentially, he just creates characters and puts them in a tough situation and lets them figure it out.
King’s approach is to just start typing and go where the characters bring the story. For instance, he wouldn’t have Mary get in a car accident just to push the plot; it would be something that would happen to Mary because maybe she is a poor driver or she is lazy with shoulder-checking, or drinks a bit beyond the limit before driving. It’s kind of the like the seemingly meaningless skill a character displays early in a movie that turns out to be crucial at the end (my favorite is Shelley Long’s dance/leaping ability in the movie, Outrageous Fortune).
Before too long in this process, I began to see my characters in other situations and as that happened, I began to understand them better, what their values are, what motivates them – but that still didn’t give me an outline which, although I don’t think it is crucial to have at the start, I still believe is important to have at some point if you’re going to finish your book and have it make some kind of sense.
So, okay, no outline yet. Not even a plot, really. Fine. Focus is not my greatest strength so I’m going to get to know my characters better and just start writing some scenes, that may become chapters, part of one, or just end up on the trash heap. Don’t fret about throwing things away. If you’re going to write a lot, chances are that bit, or a part of it, will eventually have its day.
NEXT: WRITING IN CHUNKS
Note: If anyone is going to comment/ask questions, please remember, no spoilers!