Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net

Better Writing Through Organized Chaos

By 
Jon Chaisson
©2003, Jon Chaisson

've been writing seriously since 1984, when I was in seventh grade.  I still remember that day I swiped a pile of lined paper from the teacher's desk and began writing stories.  Mind you, most of those stories never made it past three or four pages, but even then I knew I'd be writing novels.  Within those few pages would be the introduction to the lead characters and to the situation they found themselves in.  It wasn't until three years later that I finally finished one of those stories, a war novel set in my hometown and inspired by the Cold War and a heavy dose of music.  Thankfully, it remains unpublished.

What I found, when I examined this first novel (looking far past the horrendous grammar and overused clichés) was an ability to write prose with absolutely no plot outlines written out beforehand.  I still use the same process to this day, and though I still run into a few roadblocks here and there, I haven't had much of a problem with it.  I make up most of a story as I go along, with a very vague idea of where I want it to go.  How vague?  Consider my plan for my latest work in progress, a sequel to the book I just finished:  People are now awakened to their spiritual-slash-alien side.  Ancient memories of a spiritual war are emerging within them, just as their foe is about to strike.

That's it.  That's all I'm going on right now.  Everything else is open season.

I can just see some writers cowering in fear as they witness the birth of a bloated manuscript with absolutely no direction or meaning whatsoever.  To be honest, that's exactly how I see each novel I write when I first start it.  Just how big and unwieldy is this thing going to get?  Then I remind myself:  write it as if you're reading it.

That is the number one rule to Chaotic Writing.  I don't try to save the world with my prose; I just want to write a book that readers will enjoy reading.  In order to do that, I have to write as if I'm reading the book for the first time.  If I'm reading a long bit of prose that drones on and on with no apparent ending in sight, obviously I'm going to skip forward a few paragraphs until I find something I like.  And if it still doesn't end, I'm going to put the book down.  The same goes for writing—if I'm slaving over a scene that doesn't seem to be going anywhere, I'm going to edit it out and try again.

The thing I enjoy most about this method of writing, and one I'm sure others have secretly admitted enjoying, is what I call "putting a wrench in the works."  This is a clever name for "plot twist," but to me it works because sometimes I really don't know what's going to happen until after I've written it.  Rule Number Two:  when things seem to be going fine in the characters' lives, give the plot an unexpected and very sharp turn -- as long as it's believable.  For example, I've just put one major character in the hospital and two MCs are missing.  This was quite a feat, as I had to rely on a secondary character to pull the story along for a chapter or two!  Sure, it's risky, but it was a plot twist too good to pass up and it worked.  I should also point out that this rule is also great for breaking writer's block, as I've used it quite a few times for that very reason.

The Third Rule: as long as the plot continues to move forward and without increasing disbelief, you're good to go.  Can't get any simpler than that.

Any other methods I use in Chaotic Writing are purely cosmetic:  keeping a list of character names, certain important dates, conlangs, and any other important reference files is fine.  Jotting down sudden ideas while away from the manuscript is not only allowed, but also highly suggested.  And of course, bouncing ideas off coworkers or other people interested in your novel is a good thing as well.

As I said before, everything else is open season.