Saturday, July 17, 2010

Clearing Away the Smoke

Scott D. Parker

When I write short material, I don’t outline. I start with a scene in my head and write it down. From there, the ideas just flow, one after the other, like fireworks on the Fourth. In short stories, as when watching fireworks, there is rarely time to suffer the dud firework (read: idea), the one that merely blooms with a minimal amount of smoke, fire, and sound. It doesn’t matter that it still probably took someone just as long to pack said firework back in China. It’s what happens in the sky (and on the page) that matters and, frankly, some fireworks are just better than others.

Long-form writing is a different animal entirely. As your typical fireworks show presses on, unless there’s a breeze hundreds of feet in the air, the sky gets clogged with smoke. I’ve seen fireworks displays where a brisk wind carries the smokey echo of one firework away while its siblings ignite and make their own afterbirth. Other times, it’s like a smokey morass. Without any wind, the smoke just hangs in the air, refusing to budge an inch. Naturally, all subsequent fireworks must fight to be seen--hearing is never an issue--and the end result can be a muddled mess, especially the well-choreographed ending. What was supposed to be a bright, shining display of patriotic explosives timed to the “1812 Overture” (when did our Independence Day inherit a musical piece written by a Russian during the time of the czars?) turns into something resembling Louisiana gumbo: you know all ingredients are in there, you just can’t see them.

You know the feeling you get when you get the spark of an idea and you can’t wait to get it out of your head and onto paper? It’s a feeling only creative types have, I think. As soon as I have that spark, more often than not, I start wondering about all the specifics. Frankly, I get bogged down in the specifics. Then, I start to doubt. Never a good thing. Basically, my brain is both the colorful explosions that are the fireworks and the smoke that obscures them.

I’ve been in that mode for a month or so now. I’m a planner when it comes to writing a book. It worked right the first time I tried it. Thus, I’ve convinced myself that, for me, outlining is the way to go, especially since going the other way--just write, dude, and see how it turns out--never panned out. It also helps me plan my time. Since I have a limited amount of time to write, I like to spend it writing, not thinking about writing. As such, I spend more time planning to write than I do writing. Often times, as with my current story, there is no breeze wafting in the air to clear the smoke away so I can clearly see what I’m doing. I hear the sounds of various ideas exploding amid the smoke and, every now and then, I see a sparkle or two. But it’s still murky.

What happened this week was blessed: a breeze kicked up. It blew away some of the smoke, clearing the sky for me. I can’t say I’m completely ready to put prose to pixel but I’m close. I’ve been doubting for a long time. Now, I’m excited. I know I’m on to something. That, my friends, is priceless.

Do y’all have those moments, both doubting ones and the sublime ones, that grace us as we live our creative lives? Share some stories. I’d like to hear them.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Either the smoke is still there or I am going blind.

Scott D. Parker said...

Patti - That's darn funny! Dunno what happened. It's up now.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I never plan much. Which is probably why my short stories work better than my two stabs at novels. Both of them still feel like a group of short stories, I fear.