I had one of those work sessions yesterday where I began with no idea what would happen to my poor characters. Although I rarely have things mapped out in much detail, usually, by the time I get to a new scene or a new chapter, I’ve begun to at least get some glimmers of where I am going and need only direct my narrative eye that way to see the next step.
Not so on this occasion. I had a vague idea where the characters would be in a chapter or two, but had absolutely no vision for how they would get there, which meant, given how I work, that it was not even certain the characters would be where I thought they would be in a chapter or two, which meant I really had no idea where the whole story was going.
This lent the session a Moment of Truth quality, which is an unfortunate place to begin. So after doing some laundry that suddenly needed doing, and cleaning the litter box, and washing some dishes, and checking my email once more, I faced The Moment.
Which, oddly, was no different than any other moment. Just me at my computer—where, after a bit of nothingness, it occurred to me that my characters were headed someplace cold. I tested this idea, as one does, and found that it was so. I had a sentence, and two hours later a chapter, and the sun shone a little brighter.
I was reminded of Hemmingway’s mantra: Just write one true sentence. It was the word “true” that always hung me up. I had always taken it to mean true in the philosophical sense, which is not so useful for a storyteller. However, seeking one sentence that is true to the story you are telling is useful. Once you have found that sentence you have reentered the stream of your story and you are sailing again.
Telling a story is never about a Moment of Truth. There is no moment in a river, unless you stand on a rock, in which case you are no longer in the river anymore. Telling a story, whether you are seeking your first sentence or your last, is always about remaining true to its current, which as any captain will tell you, is a continuous job, each moment as important as the next.