#96: Experiments

I wrote this post for myself as much as I wrote it for you.

You have an idea for a short story. It starts small, a random, sudden jolt of inspiration. Over time, other ideas latch on to it, big and small. Slowly but surely it expands into something bigger, and you start paying attention. It stays close, at the back of your mind at all times, and you pick the thread up whenever you have a spare moment.

Even more time passes, and you realise that the idea is so big that you can’t keep it inside your head anymore. So you pick up your notebook and dump all your thoughts under the heading initial notes.

You’re excited about it and want to explore it further. Things seem to be getting pretty serious. If you do it right, this could get really big. Not a short story but a novel for sure, perhaps even a trilogy. Now you have to be careful and really think about it.

And you do. More unsorted notes start piling up until you’re pretty sure this will be at least an eight-book series with the possibility of spinning it off into a fantasy empire not unlike the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett.

At this point, you’ve been racking your brain on this for months, but all you have is an idea. A pretty epic idea, but still, only an idea. You don’t know if the story’s going to work and have no idea whether you’ll actually enjoy writing something like this. This has happened to me many more times that I’m willing to admit, and most of them remain mere ideas to this day.

I often wonder: why not do it the other way around? When the initial jolt of inspiration comes, why not harness it? Why not sit down and write whatever story comes out in however much time you have without thinking about it? Just a little experiment.

Writing scenes with those characters that just appeared in your mind puts things in perspective. It gives you an idea of how much research and other related work you would have to do. Writing even a short experimental scene doesn’t spoil the idea. It puts it to the test.

As writers of fiction, we have the luxury of being able to try things out with almost zero cost. A surgeon or barrister or firefighter can’t turn up for work with a wild new idea and immediately put it into practice. That would be dangerous.

Unlike all these responsible people, you can write out whatever comes to mind as crazy and half-arsed it might be. In case that fails, you can always just delete it or tear it up or burn it or take it to Nevada and nuke it in the desert (stay safe, though).

You can abandon it if you don’t like it or change it in the middle. There are no rules. Even if it turns out well, you have no obligation to publish the exploratory story. You can rewrite it as a novel and/or incorporate it into a larger body of work.

If you write just a few hundred or thousand words towards a story, you have a much better idea if it’s going to work than a person who spent months just thinking about it. There’s nothing to lose.

Think less. Do more experiments.

What I Am Reading

This week, I finished Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman — a collection of short stories by Haruki Murakami. It was a fantastic read. I have to admit, I’m becoming a massive fan of his style. I’ll have to read more Murakami in the future.

Short Stories

I read the following short stories this week:

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