You’re sitting down in front of your computer for what seems to be the thousandth time. You pop your fingers, twirl your neck, and place your hands back in front of the keys once again. Then pops the little voice in your head asking oh so subtly, ‘Wait, shouldn’t you be mapping out a bit of what happens before you just throw words down like a madman?’ Your hands withdraw and you begin to second guess that amazing idea. This is when you might think you need a more structured story. There’s only a small downside to this way of writing: It destroys the idea of ‘Pure Composition’.
What is ‘Pure Composition’?
Over the coming months, you’ll probably be subjected to a lot of quotes and anecdotes alike from one of the greatest horror writers of all time, Stephen King. So, in the spirit of the Halloween season, we’re going to be referring to him quite often, But you may be asking yourself, ‘What exactly makes his stories so good?’
Stephen King, as well as many other writers, practice the art of pure composition. In layman’s terms, this is simply writing the story you see floating past your mind’s eye as you see it. There’s no heavy emphasis in the back of your mind on checking your vocabulary or grammar, no looking back constantly to make sure the story is exactly how it should be in the final draft, or even a checking of spelling; There is only the story.
Many people have asked Stephen King in the past, “ How do you write so many books?” This is where he’ll typically mention that he has a goal in mind for how many pages he writes a day, but in the end, the stories continue to flow very evenly because King practices the art of purely composing what he works on. That’s not to say he’s never plotted out a story in the past; I can only imagine that the timeline of IT took a little tinkering with before the words could be harmonized just right, but he still stays very bent on making his story as pure and abstract as possible in the beginning stages of composition.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Now, other writers may have touched on something similar in the past, but King really makes short work of sharing both what led him to write and his personal method for doing so. King’s written works of fiction and his film adaptations, as well as many other contributions to the writing community, have been nothing short of miraculous; However, there is one book written by King that stands out over the many works of fiction he has composed over the years. His Memoir of the Craft is part autobiography, part ‘how-to’ for writing. This book will be mentioned many times in future posts regarding writing as a whole, but for now, we’re going to focus on one of the more pertinent methods of King’s craft: the act of pure composition.
There is a common method to contrast when giving you an idea of what purely composing written work really is or isn’t rather. This is where we touch on the idea of the plot. Plotting a story, as you may already know, is the creation of a series of events that will take place in a story. This could be performed before the actual story itself is written; The soup with nothing but the broth.
Focusing on King as the writer in question, he is against the act of plotting. His way to describe writing anything is like the excavation a fossil. The fossil is the story and pure composition is an assembly of all of the tools you’ll need to carefully take that fossil from the ground to show it to the world; He describes the plot as a jackhammer (turning that delicate fossil you found into powder).
He writes, “ I won’t try to convince you that I’ve never plotted any more than I’d try to convince you that I’ve never told a lie, but I do both as infrequently as possible. I distrust plot for two reasons: First, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plot and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible.”
Time to Start the Story
Now, I’m not a famous writer, but as a writer who aspires to be published in the future, I can agree with the message that King is trying to convey. Sitting down and staring at that blank page is intimidating for several reasons: For one, some may not even know what they would like to write about; For two, even when you know what you want to write about, there is a small voice in the back of your head that keeps telling you no one will really care for what you’re writing in the first place..
Another great message King expresses in his memoir is the act of writing with the door closed. Just like no one will see this blog post until it’s been under revision, no one will read your story until you decide it’s something worth reading. Don’t be too transfixed on trying to make it perfect.
Your story starts off with a simple idea. If you believe that story is worth pursuing, pursue the damn thing. Just keep in mind that you are the one that dictates whether this story will see the light of another’s eyes or become another piece of work that’s simply tucked away, Either in that shoe box in your closet or the confines of your imagination. It’ll stay there until you see it fit to either give it another go or dispose of it altogether.
Earlier I mentioned King’s reference to a story being like that of a fossil. I couldn’t help but continue thinking of ways to convey the same message with the idea of soup, so here goes.
Plotting a story is, in a way, like adding just the broth to a pot before any other ingredient. The broth is the foundation of the soup, sure, but it’s largely tasteless in comparison to the other ingredients that should also be present. The broth may be top shelf and the smell of it heating up may give you a good idea of how the soup may taste, but adding it before adding the meat and potatoes can, and will, make a good sized mess. This mess may be cleaned up later in the act of revision, but your story was still splashed all over the place from the weight of the dialogue, the gravity of the description, and the all-important mass of narrative.
Now, I’m not saying this is how soup should be made, personally, I take it from a can myself, but I am agreeing with King in the fact that our lives are basically plotless. A story that grabs someone else’s attention will follow a certain order, sure, but the spontaneity of it will keep the readers interested in a unique way only you can deliver. This is the beauty of writing (and other arts, respectively.)
King is often asked where his ideas come from. He often replies, “I don’t know.” He goes on to say that when you, as the writer, can’t be for certain of what might come next, the reader is bound to be surprised while reading your work.
The more time you spend worrying about how perfect that piece of written work should be, the less time you may have to actually write the damn thing. We only get 24 hours in a day. So, do yourself a favor: stop plotting and start composing. The worst that can happen is the idea remains by your side in written form waiting for revision. Better this result than letting the blank page mock you time and time again.
Take the initiative and show yourself what you can do first. Remember, people are praised in public for what they practice for years in private. So conjure an idea and practice a bit of pure composition yourself. You never know what may come of it.