You may have noticed by now that I relate things to a circle of a few of my favourite obsessions…most notably music lyrics and the Camino de Santiago. Okay, and Paris. Paris is the filter for all of life. Today, while writing a short story for a specific short story contest deadline that is quickly approaching, I stopped in my tracks and said, “What are your intentions?”
That sentence, or variants of it, were heard and overheard on my pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago almost constantly. “What are your intentions?”, “What is your intention?” “But what are your Camino intentions?”
Today, I had begun a short story without having intentions. It’s a habit of mine, like watching the sun go down (excuse the gratuitous song-lyric relating). I write without purpose or plan or intention quite often. I always had faith that the story would reveal itself to me as I went along. Whatever I start doing to my characters, they’ll eventually discover a path for the plot, arc, story, etc…and they’ll take it from there. They’ll run with it. Why should I do all the work? I did create them, after all. They shouldn’t be so lazy. They should pull their weight. I shouldn’t have to do everything.
Enter lately. Lately is not a friend to my style of writing because lately I am discovering that stories are fizzing out, ending abruptly in a puddle of purposelessness. I can’t always rely on my narrators and characters to see the story through to the end after all. That’s a nasty realization. Am I getting old? Is my memory slipping? Am I losing my mind?
Or have I just been too lazy to do things properly, and up until now very very lucky that it seems to work out in the end anyway? I’m suspecting this is most likely the case.
Today I full-tilt stopped writing long enough to ask myself, “BUT WHAT IS YOUR INTENTION!?” When I looked around me and came to the realization that I did not in fact have my backpack on–and I was not in fact in the north of Spain on a dirt path following yellow arrows all the way to Santiago de Compostela–I knew that I had struck a chord. As much as pilgrims on the Camino talk about carrying intentions and purpose for their pilgrimage, so too should writers carry intentions and purpose for their stories. We should always ask ourselves what those intentions are. If we do not know, then do we have any business whatsoever even writing the story in question?
This is my new plan. Before I run headlong into a story, I’m going to demand of myself what my intentions are for the story. Not quite the same as Camino Intentions, but the same idea. I won’t rely so much on my characters to figure out the plot path. I should do the heavy lifting. I’m the one wearing the backpack. I’m such a lazy writer, you have NO idea.
On the Camino, we often answer the WHAT IS YOUR INTENTION? question with things like I will be okay if I need to slow down today. I will not be judgemental today. I will be kind to others today. I will release something that I am holding onto today. I will breathe today. We choose these daily intentions and we walk while meditating on them.
In writing, I think my answer to the WHAT IS YOUR INTENTION? question is quite obvious…even though I have almost never held myself to such scrutiny while exploring story.
Today I set up a homeless guy to spend the night taking refuge in a hidden cubbyhole in a library. It began interestingly enough. I thought it went well, actually. The hoops he had to jump through to pull off the deed seemed plausible. He overcame the odds and tricked the library staff into forgetting him. He made it! Victory. He found himself alone in the library overnight.
Then, once the dust settled and the character glared at me awaiting the next move in his adventure, I hit the proverbial brick wall. That’s when, without thinking, I whispered that age-old Camino question to myself. WHAT IS YOUR INTENTION? I have/had absolutely no idea. Getting him locked inside was the extent of my vested interest in the story. Clearly that’s not enough. The STORY has to be about what happens after the set-up succeeds. CLEARLY!
It’s high time I started asking myself these rather important questions prior to wasting several thousand words on a story that is not a story. I don’t need to outline. God knows I’ve tried doing that enough times to know it doesn’t work for me. But I DO need to know my intention. I need to know what I want the story to be about prior to sitting down to write it…at the very least. At the bear minimum I should know what the bloody story is going to be about.
I have to stop doing this to myself.
So, do yourself a favour. And not only at the beginning of your story, but all the way through it. Whether it’s a novel or a short story…or a poem or an article or an essay or a blog post. Ask yourself that all important question at every step of the journey. WHAT IS YOUR INTENTION? If you don’t know what your intention/motivation is, figure it out. It’s better than leaving yourself high and dry or leaving your poor character abandoned in a library overnight with nothing to do. You deserve better and so does your character. Don’t do what I did. As obvious as it is that a writer should ask themselves what the hell it is they want to accomplish in a story, they sometimes forget to do so.
Say it with me now…
WHAT IS YOUR INTENTION?