On Writing: Traveling in the Dark
June 16, 2022
Caleb Pirtle III
My characters just wander into the story the way strangers wander into our lives. I don’t know if they are friends or enemies.
WE ALL WRITE our novels differently.
What works for me may never work for you.
What works for me may never work for anybody.
I don’t know the story or any of its twists and turns when I begin.
I have no idea how the characters will interact with each other.
I have no idea how the characters will meet.
Generally, other than my protagonist, I don’t even know who my characters are.
They just wander into the story the way strangers wander into our lives.
Don’t expect them.
Don’t know why they show up.
Don’t know if they are friends.
They’ll let me know.
And, more than once, I’ve been disappointed.
In real life.
And in my stories.
When writing a novel, I write the first page and last page at the same time.
It’s like traveling.
I decide on a destination.
And then I go back and try to figure out how to get there.
I don’t know why I’m going.
I’m traveling in the dark.
The shortest distance between two points is not always the best way to go.
That gives my characters one great advantage over me.
They know how the story ends.
So I always have to re-write my endings.
And then I generally have to go back and re-write my beginning again.
I am only a spectator, standing on the sidelines, watching what happens, eavesdropping and listening to what the characters say to each other.
Who wants to escape?
Who’s the good guy?
I think I know.
I’m usually wrong.
Will he fall in love?
Will he even meet a girl?
I think I know.
He usually falls in love with the wrong girl.
Where did she come from?
I have no idea.
I’ve just finished writing Eulogy in Black and White, and, all along, I knew that a soldier who died in Afghanistan held the key to a string of murders in the small town of Magnolia Bluff.
I just didn’t know why.
In Back Side of a Blue Moon, I knew a con man came to a dying town in the midst of hard times and the Great Depression.
I knew he was promising to find oil.
I knew he would fall in love.
I just didn’t know she had murdered her husband.
Neither did my con man.
I was running out of pages.
The ending was in sight.
The con man finds oil.
He finds love.
All is well.
And suddenly a shotgun fires in the dead of night.
It shocked me.
The ending made so much sense I wondered why I didn’t see it coming.
And so it goes.
For me that’s why life is so similar to novels.
I don’t know where I’m going.
I won’t know until the final word is written.
But until they are scrawled on a blank page, I’m like the lines from an old country western song: Please don’t tell me how the story ends.
Please click HERE to find Eulogy in Black and White on Amazon.
Please click HERE to find Back Side of a Blue Moon on Amazon.