A long time ago in a land not so very far away, I decided to write something off the top of my head. A wandering story. A serial.
It would be called "The Perils of Lady Pauline," and it would begin as high fantasy with flying unicorns, and outlaws and rebels and magic trees, etc, but at any moment, if I got bored with it, I could have the characters kidnapped by aliens and ported off to the modern day U.S. or off to Star Wars land. Just whatever I felt like writing that day.
It would be great fun, I was sure. (To write, if not to read.)
I was, I think, in college by this time, but hadn't yet decided to be a writer. And although I had a highly developed imagination and storytelling ability, I did not have writing skills to match. My mind flew too fast, and I typed too slow. (And as I've learned since, I can't even translate what happens in my head into language that fast, let a lone write it down.)
So that story got to about three pages -- solid, single-spaced text, edge to edge, on erasable onion skin. (Which means that even if I'd kept it, it would have dissolved long before now.) And there it stalled.
The story, as I remember it: Lady Pauline was a noblewoman, a pawn in some evil lord's scheme to take power, and she was a captive who escaped with the help of a band of wild peasants, and a couple of mercenary outlaws (one of whom she would fall in love with when they stopped arguing). You know. Standard stuff. I never got to the unicorns or the space ship that would haul them off to modern day Peoria.
Pauline's story never even rose to the level that I particularly cared about it. Images didn't haunt me, nor did I get ideas from dreams.
But the concept stayed with me.
Basically, it's exploratory writing -- just letting things go, letting them be illogical if necessary, making jumps if necessary. But it's different than exploratory writing in that this would would not have any ulterior motive: it would be for its own sake.
And that, ironically makes it harder and less free. Exploratory writing, after all, is part of a larger process. It can be utterly disjointed and nonsensical because it's raw material for something else. It's not finished, and never whole.
But this idea, for all its free-form inspiration, is about bringing a whole story into being.
I've indulged this idea in my journal quite a bit, and the spontaneous stories -- often from dreams and other things -- have become a stockpile of raw material for "real" stories. But some of these stories have stubbornly kept their identity, refusing to adapt to anything else, especially not something rational or publishable.
Over the past couple of years these have coalesced into a project I've been calling "The Serial." I decided to develop and write The Serial into a Real Book some day.
Except something has been happening to my head lately. I need to break out of a rut. I have more skills now than I did when I was young. And I keep hearing Dean Wesley Smith's voice, shouting "Dare to be bad! Write with no plan!"
And then two more things happened.
One is that I started reading John Le Carre, and I rediscovered the joys of the omniscient told story. The Honourable Schoolboy in particular is so lovely in its pure story telling style. Summary, exposition, often just dipping into vivid scenes and then out again. Wry, sly, and yet somehow the truth laid bare. It'll be logical and puzzling and interesting and then suddenly it'll fly into a beautiful, personal, painful moment that just makes me want to put the book down and lie on the floor and kick my feet and hands like a baby for simple writerly joy.
The other thing that happened was that Kris Rusch wrote a post about how publishing is changing, and someone in the comments wrote about how she'd built up her audience via a blog serial.
Now, a year ago, when you'd hear someone mention the world serial, you'd get a whole chorus of "Eewww! I HATE serials!" But this time, there was a whole chorus of "I've been thinking about that too."
And suddenly I knew something. I didn't want to write a finished story and serialize it. I wanted to freewrite the draft of this story. No, not even a draft! I wanted one of the secondary characters (Lily, a budding journalist) to pour out what she felt like saying about her world and the stories that happen in it. Not just a story, but something more natural.
In other words, I want Lily to write... a blog!
(Well, not exactly a blog, because she lives in a world without computers. But she's a would-be journalist and so she see it more as dispatches and memoirs and letters.)
So, next Monday, I'll formally introduce the new feature -- explain a little about the story and what my goals are and what to expect. Then on May 7, Lily will begin her weekly column, telling of her friends, her foes, herself, her world, and their stories.
(FOLLOW UP NOTE: while this thought did indeed inspire me to jump in and write the serial, I decided to drop the concept of Lily as a blogger. I found that she just told the story, and other than an awkward opening, she didn't add anything. However, I still like the idea and I might very well give her a blog later on.)
See you in the funny papers.