The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe. –Gustave Flaubert
I don’t know about you, but for me, I often don’t discover what I’m really writing about in a short story until halfway through the initial draft. Oh, I might have some notion that the main character is So-and-So, and that there are time-traveling guinea pigs involved, and maybe a robot, too. But until I get into the meat of the story and wrestled with it a bit, I don’t know what emotional response I’m looking for. Is this a funny robot, and the story is a sideways look at tech gone awry? Or will the guinea pigs eat one another, so I want the reader to come away with a revulsion for the intricacies of “over-civilization” and such? Am I looking to make you, the reader, long for something unattainable, cross and re-cross your legs in discomfort as you recognize something in your world that is less than pretty, or do I hope you’ll get misty-eyed at the thought of a reconciliation?
Longing, discomfort, hope — these are just some of the emotional responses a reader might have to the overall story. Sure, you might still laugh at a funny robot joke in there, but if the end result is one of longing, I’ll go back and temper some of those jokes in later drafts (or start writing that way mid-draft, once I “get” my own story). See what I mean?
A few stories I’ll know the strings to pull right from the beginning. Those are, in some ways, easier to write. And in other ways, they’re harder. When I don’t know the emotional heart of the story, I can’t overdo it. When I do know it, it’s far too easy for me to go overboard. Then I’ll have to go back and cut, cut, cut. It’s a toss-up, I guess in that regard.
But those I know beforehand generally stick in my brain longer, forcing me to write them. The others will fade away if I ignore them too long, and their emotions will sweep away like the tide, only to reappear in some other story further down the beach. Unlike in life, nothing in writing is really lost.
So, this is part of my process. What’s yours?