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Writing Lecture/Objective Fourteen
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Where the Story is Heading

How many times have you started writing something and not really known where it was headed?  If you are like me, the answer is, Plenty of times.  Actually, not knowing where you are going is not such a bad thing.  My earliest and happiest memories are exploring with my Standard French Poodle, Benoit, while my father was assigned in France.  My wife, on the other hand, is not a great explorer.  She wants to know where she is going from the git-go and has most everything figured out before hand and when I want to digress from what she has it mind, it causes her great woe.

I have great sympathy for her and no idea how she has managed to live with me all these years. When it gets to be too much to bear for her I remind her of the obey clause in our wedding vows.  Still, there is a lot to be said for having a plan, particularly if the journey will be long and there is a particular place you want to wind up.
This begs the question, Where is that mysterious place, anyway?  In my career, I ‘oft saw my peers racing along at a hundred miles an hour with only the vaguest notion of where they were heading and hoped to wind up. So common is this problem among soldiers that war planning sees exploring and doing as two different processes.  First is the exploring, and second is the doing.  Talk about getting an edge on the competition.  A two phased planning process is hard to beat
In the military it is not only okay to cast around for the best way before you go charging off, it is mandatory. Now the way this two phase process evolved is because it is possible to be successfully tactically without going through the process.  A commander who is talented can operate at the tactical level and achieve remarkable success.  How often have you heard the saying, We won the battle but lost the war?

This is true, not just in fighting a war, but many other aspects of life. Writing a novel is no exception.  What it takes to write a piece of flash fiction and, perhaps even a short story, is not a modus operandi that can be simply extended linearly and through the investment of a bit more time, and then be expected to pay dividends when you are writing a novel.  At a certain point, which I’ll define as a work that goes beyond a chapter in scope, the human mind becomes saturated.  If you don’t have the operational and strategic issues worked out in advance, you are setting yourself up for failure.  One of these is knowing where you’re going.

Keep in mind that a tactical military leader just has to succeed in winning a battle at a single point in time and space.  It is a unique event, and I won’t for an instant denigrate the importance of being able to do that.  This type of undertaking is of a scope that someone really smart can wrap their mind around and achieve some local success.  For a writer of flash fiction and short stories, this is certainly the case.  I read some awesome work here at WdC and elsewhere.  But don’t think for a minute that this ability alone will propel you into the big time.

One of my specialties in the military was Transportation Management. In graduate school, I read a study that some of the most efficient and profitable commercial truck companies were"ma and pa operations" under the million dollar threshold. The wife would usually handle the operations and dispatching and the husband, fleet maintenance and driver training.  Together they could keep an eye on what was happening and make a fair living.  Unfortunately, all too often they decided to expand beyond the scope of personal influence and invariably went bankrupt.  This was because there was much more to managing a multi-million dollar operation than one below that threshold.
Now apply that thought to writing. Its one thing to juggle everything in your head when working on a small project.  However, when you take on something big, when you can’t juggle all the balls in the operating range of your awareness, then you need to have mechanisms to manage what is happening at the operational and strategic levels of a longer, larger, and more complex type of work.

So, this brings us back to the military model which essentially says, Before you go off half-cocked make sure you’ve figured out the best course of action.  Then write an implementing plan and finally execute that plan making sure the minions are on board. If this doesn’t sound like writing a novel, you just aren’t paying attention.  This is how you get from where you are to where you want to be. It requires some developmental thought designed to chart the course on how you propose to get there.

Percy Goodfellow - Workshop Instructor
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