You learn, as a young writer, that when authoring a scene and the larger collective story, the hope is to transport the reader into the world that you are creating, to show the wet streets of Asheville, the squash soup on the kitchen vinyl floor, the raise of a chest when the person’s whose chest it is just received news about a car accident that his daughter may have been part of. You want to plant the reader, you want to carry them, you want to shift the structure of the current place in their own present so they can leave for awhile, to go into what you’ve written.
And where do you carry them? What do you bring them to see? We can’t often say, because when we we set off down the river we don’t always know where the river ends. In life, the living is in the movement–so, too, in writing. Donald Barthelme said, “The not-knowing is crucial to art, is what permits art to be made.” Our not-knowing is what allows us to be on the journey that our reader will eventually route on. The discovery, as it unfolds while we write, keeps us honest and patient, keeps our breathing metered.
So how do we do this? It isn’t so much of a technique as it is an approach. We of course know something of our story, our characters. We know something takes place in Moline, we know John is recently unemployed, we know he loses his wallet in a park. We know the weather, the types of trees around, but we don’t know all of what’s going to happen. That’s up to what occurs in the process of our writing, that’s why we write–to know. The knowing comes during, the knowing comes then. The knowing doesn’t come before because then the fish is already on the hook and you’ve already cast with it on the end of your line and you’re just waiting to reel it in. What’s important is for us to permit the attributes we do know, the elements, to do their work and for us to then observe that. Write one good sentence ,and then another, always allowing ample room for development. Cast with an empty hook. Then there’s that chance for innovation, then there’s raw creativity, and that’s where the art blooms from.
Take fifteen slips of paper. On five write jobs: elephant trainer for the circus, captain of a dive boat charter, mail room clerk, etc. Fill them as you please. On another five write down characters: a blind 19-year-old mother, a former body builder, and so forth. And on the last five write motivations: wants to be rich, running from the law, blah, blah. Blind draw one from each pile and write. Put something together in short, complete form or start something longer. And don’t decide where you’re going before you begin to type. You have interesting elements. Let the story go where it needs to go. You, then, report it.