There is a scene in The Dark Knight where the Joker, having successfully cornered Batman into choosing between saving either Harvey Dent or his girlfriend, Rachel (he chose the former), decided to pay the rescued — albeit with half a face charred off — Harvey at the hospital.
In the ensuing dialogue, as the Joker tried to claim his innocence by arguing that he wasn’t the one who detonated the explosives, Harvey refuted him by saying that it was his plan, to which the Joker replied, “Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it! I just do things.”
For almost every aspect of life, I like a good plan, and plans are undoubtedly an important foundation for a smoother (not bump-free, but smoother) path ahead. However, when it comes to writing, I continuously struggle to craft stories around plans and mind maps.
My introspective investigation traces its origins back to 2004, when I was 12. I remember being taught in school to adhere to a strict essay writing structure, and I could never do well; I was too concerned with not straying from the rules that I could not focus on the story itself. First paragraph: introduction; second paragraph: setting… described in no more than (arbitrary number) sentences; on and on it goes. The list is endless. That rigidness crept into the way I approached stories; there was no room for flexibility — everything had to be written as planned. There was no Plan B. As the weight of these rules began to wear me down, I gradually stopped following them, and I felt much lighter than I ever was. Writing no longer felt like a jigsaw puzzle that needed assembling based on what was right or wrong, but a blank canvas that I could freely paint on, and the more liberated I felt, the more fluid my writing became.
My writing style today is built on those beliefs — I identify the rough outline of a story and mentally construct the setting; that’s about all the planning I do before I begin to write. Along the way, I allow spontaneous ideas to bridge the gap between ideas and end product, refining them as I go. Story plans hardly seem to pan out as they should, so I saw little value in putting together an elaborate plan only to not follow it eventually. Writing is an art form that I feel is best executed with emotions and instinct, rather than step-by-step meticulousness. This, however, shouldn’t serve to undermine other approaches to writing; indeed, it does have its fair share of shortcomings.
Writing a full novel is a sought-after endeavour of mine, but until I learn to think through my plot from start to finish and connect the dots, it will remain just out of reach. A few years ago, in an attempt to write a novel, I started and completed the first chapter. I was pleased with the outcome, and began working on the second, which was when I realised that while I had a faint picture of the outline of the story, I had no inkling about how I should unpack it into a series of steady progression. The draft was subsequently shelved.
In addition, my writing process is often wrought with uncertainty; I never really knew how my articles would turn out. Take this post for instance — while not exactly a lengthy piece, I spent an entire afternoon stuck in neutral; as my once-steady stream of spontaneity stagnated, so did my progress. Will what I am attempting to get across make sense? Good question. I have no idea either. Had I planned it better, I might have been able to push on more steadily. Instead, progress came in stuttering spurts.
Just as some structure is needed for society to function, the same can be said in order to write a coherent story. A beautiful painting, for all its splendour, is still confined to the borders of the canvas. Yet, even as I learn to grasp the logical, law-abiding side of writing, I have a feeling that I will always naturally gravitate towards a spot of mischief, much like a slightly loony scientist who understands the danger of certain chemicals but chooses to mix them anyway, just to see what he will get.