Wednesday, July 14, 2010


I have a theory (one of my many theories when it comes to writing) that all stories, regardless of length, will eventually reach a point of no return. What I mean by that is that there is a place in any story where the writer simply has to keep on going. It works for readers, too, but since this particular ramble is about writing, let’s just focus on that.

In part it analogous to the old Louis L’amour ‘I want to see what happens next’ aspect of storytelling, but equally it’s to do with how a writer can become wrapped up in his own work to the point of near-obsession.

It happens regardless of how much you plan or don’t plan the stories you write. Preparation is important of course, but equally there is a joy in just setting off on a particular fictional path and seeing where it leads you.

Regardless of this I think there is a tipping point in any narrative that pulls you along, further and deeper into the tale you are writing. It’s not to be confused with narrative climaxes, plot twists or any of those other aspects of the writing process, nor is it simply that desire to write which exists (or should exist) in every writer regardless of how or what he/she writes. Nor, indeed, is it to do with any snow-balling aspects of the narrative or a tipping point in the story.

So, now that we know what I’m not talking about, the question remains ‘what exactly am I talking about?’

It’s difficult to explain, but it’s to do with that feeling that the story has reached critical mass, that everything that will happen from this point onward is a result of that moment. Again, it’s not necessarily a narrative convention – it could be something as simple as a phrase, a description, a word, the way a character reacts to a given situation within the narrative. It’s the moment when things start to flow.

For me that moment can come at almost any time – and not necessarily when I’m sitting at the keyboard – linked with that whole notion of forebrain and backbrain thinking. Sometimes I’m lucky and the critical mass of a story happens close to the start of a story, more often, though, it requires slogging my way through the story to a point where suddenly everything I’ve written up to then suddenly becomes clear (and, often as not, requires a certain amount of re-writing in order to make everything fit with the new narrative or character concepts).

As a writer I think it’s to do with whether or not you think the journey is worth the destination – personally I think that it is – or whether you are determined to keep your characters and narratives on a tight reign and pre-determine every step of the journey.

Characters, particularly those characters in whom you have invested something (the protagonist or antagonist rather than the unnamed guard who exist solely for the purpose of dispatch) have a way of heading towards that point of critical mass under their own power and there is nothing quite like that moment when a character makes exactly the right decision without your conscious help.

All stories have a point of critical mass. It’s up to you to find it. Or let it find you.

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