Monday 31 October 2022

A Complete Change Of Course


I'm beached. I was sailing merrily along after publishing Solar Storm, and things looked good. The sea was flat calm and life was almost easy. Then Covid hit. Clouds had already been gathering before then, for no sea remains calm for long, but after that it was a full-on storm. The sequel to the Solar Storm series, Into Darkness (an apt title if ever there was one), didn't do so well. In music-industry parlance, it failed to chart. Loneliness and depression were already lashing at me, and financially things were looking grim. With no demand (seemingly) for any more of my post-apocalypse books, I tried a science fiction book, writing a story that had been with me for some time. It was actually the last of the stories that had been in my head for years.

It flopped. I thought it was a great story, with possibly the best cover I've ever done, but nobody cared. By then I'd reached the end of my tether, and I'd also run out of money. I got a job delivering groceries for a well-known UK supermarket chain. I'm still there.

It's given me a lot of time to think. There's an unmistakable beauty to driving a delivery van to villages in South Shropshire and the Welsh hills. I see the dawn mist in the valleys, and sunsets over distant mountains. It's been very therapeutic, which is pretty rare for a job. I get to see great places and I get paid for it. I cannot complain.

The science fiction sequel I've been writing this year kind of sputtered out and died of apathy. I used to put my heart and soul into my books. I have neither now. I used to be a seat-of-the-pants type of writer, what we in the trade call a pantser, and it's an approach that involves me getting lost in the story to the point of actually living it.  I would start with a vague idea, maybe something for an ending, then I would wing it, wandering through the story and seeing where it would take me. It's a very undisciplined way of writing a novel, but it also creates more of an experience - almost like a drug trip - which enters the story itself.

Unfortunately, pantsing requires a lot of time getting into the role - a bit like being a method actor. And writing when I'm not in the mood it produces writer's block. Or some forced drivel that later gets deleted. Now that I don't have so much time - and being easily distracted by my various troubles - it's a style of writing I can no longer sustain. So I'm left with a choice: find another way to write, or quit.

The opposite of pantsing is plotting. Plotting is logical - you write out the plot beforehand, so that when you start the story, you know exactly what to write next, because you know the plot. I could never get this method to work for me, however. I get my story ideas when I'm in the story. In the zone, so to speak. Out of the zone, I'd stare at the page, just not feeling it, and the page would stay bare, the ideas failing to materialize. But as I said, I'd reached a dead end with my normal style of writing, and while it had a good run, it couldn't continue. So last month I set about constructing a plot for an action thriller, scene by scene.

Perhaps I hadn't persevered enough in trying to write plots before, but this time I managed to create a full scene-by-scene synopsis. Does it have the same soul as my past works? Possibly not, but those stories are written now, and my bank is dry, so I need to make new stuff up. That is a writer's job after all - to make stuff up. A bit like journalism, but without the immorality (and no, I don't buy that crap about journalists writing The Truth. I read their stuff and, as a writer, I see right through that crap. I see the manipulation of emotions and the attempt to lead the reader, because that's exactly how it works in fiction too. Just for different reasons).

And why an action thriller? For the money. I'd been watching Amazon's The Terminal List, and found it to be better than I expected (seeing what streaming services had been putting out recently kept my expectations in the basement). And I used to read thrillers. Plus I always like to include action in my stories, and military or ex-military characters. So I thought it would be a good test for me.

It's a nakedly commercial enterprise, written by hand on paper, often during breaks in my van as I watch sunsets over the hills. I can't say where this is going to go, or whether it will come to anything, but I'm giving it a shot.

No comments:

Post a Comment