On Freewriting and pulling a story together

I have only recently learned of the freewriting technique, from an article called Freewriting: Writing for Crappy Writers. I decided to try it out. In the last few months, I have not been actively working on a project (except Ailith’s Gift, but that’s only ~3000 words so doesn’t count). I decided to give freewriting a go, see if I could shake out the cobwebs and get my brain moving again.

I set myself a topic: “a settlement”, and I feel it went quite well. A few typos, a spelling error or two, some awkward grammar and quite a lot of rambling nonsense as I tried to keep my fingers moving even though I had nothing to say. But it came out alright. I created a settlement, a small town with a bridge, on the main road between a city and a place of pilgrimage, the main economy of which is to sell objects to pilgrims which they can dedicate to the sacred shrine the other side of the river.

I was quite happy with it, so I decided the next freewriting session to expand, and decided this sacred site was believed to be the centre of the world and that the society’s new year was defined as the time at which is is possible for an entourage to make it through the mountains to the sacred site, after the snow has melted. That brings up the possibility of a year that never was, when some environmental condition, like a volcano spewing out ash, means temperatures never rise enough to melt all the snow, the pilgrims can’t get through, the year cannot be declared to have begun, and it’s a big disaster.

The last two sessions, I’ve been looking at characters. I created a character, but didn’t like her; I felt that while she’s interesting and complex, she cannot be a main character because there is too much tying her down and nothing pulling her away; she is happy, settled, already in her element. The only way to force her, a successful shopkeeper with a family, to leave the town would be through an outside force, a raid by bandits or enemies of some sort, or a major natural disaster. I didn’t want that. So today I chose as a topic “motivations for characters that lead them to initiate their own adventure”. I don’t want a reactive main character, I want an active one, someone who is the first to act, someone with initiative and drive, someone with something to achieve for themselves, not in answer to someone else’s actions.

Putting this limit on myself at first was difficult. It rules out several options, like revenge, rescuing a kidnapped loved one, retrieving a lost possession, fleeing an attacking army before turning around to fight it. I didn’t want a character who was driven from their home because of external forces, I wanted a character who chooses to leave their home because they have a desire of their own that cannot be achieved by staying put. I came up with a character who is a mother of grown or nearly grown children, who had previously had another child before she was married, and that child was taken and brought up by the father. With her legitimate children grown (or close enough) she now wants to set out in search of her eldest, the lost child. And I realised that she could be the same character I envisaged in my previous character freewrite. Add a few years to the whole situation, make her and her children older, add in a sense of unease, the desire to find the lost child tearing at her otherwise perfect and peaceful life.

I don’t know where it will go yet. But I can feel it coming together. I can feel this story taking form. There’s a lot I still need to work out. Who and where is the father? What actually did happen to the child? How does she go about finding this child? What places, beyond her own home, are there to visit? What difficulties will she come across on her journey?

The answers to these questions will come, no doubt in more freewriting sessions. I’m finding them useful. Ten minutes to write and no more, no stopping, no hesitating, just following the tangents off wherever they take me. Some bits will ultimately get dropped, but that’s fine. It’s working, and it’s productive. A few paragraphs gives me a good start on a topic, something to link in to the next session.

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2 thoughts on “On Freewriting and pulling a story together

  1. I’ve found free writing helpful when I’ve got ‘writer’s block.’ Even if the majority of what I write is gobbledygook it quite often sparks an idea, or a couple of threads that can be knitted together with other ideas from elsewhere to make a mesh. Also, it’s exciting, not knowing what’s going to come next…

  2. Pingback: 2012 | Ally's Desk

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