When my baby sister, Cherokee, was very young I would read her favorite books to her on Saturday mornings. Too soon her favorite stories were from the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. I don’t know why but I never really cared for them, but she did. In them you were given two choices at a certain point in the story: does she run away or open the door? Does he give the ball back or toss it into the street?
Writing is much like those books. One of my mentors, Roy Hoffman, once said that when you write you get to a door and if you open THAT door it means you can’t choose the other and soon you are too far away to even get back to the first door. Okay, I am taking probably gross liberties with what he said, but I have long since lost my notes on our phone conversation. Still, the principal is true.
That’s what’s completely wonderful about writing, and what’s so difficult about it: you have all of these freeing choices. You can remake the world. But once you’ve made those choices, unless you either have absolutely no deadlines or infinite patience, it’s hard to retrace your steps. Imagine a maze whose form is completely transformed once you head down a path, and its walls become only those which your hands press, and the rest of them disappear.
I, sadly, have more patience than the average writer, which can be great, but it can also be maddening. I have been known to write twenty pages and immediately erase ten. I have brutally demoted 400 page novels to scant 75 page novellas. But even I come to those points where I have to choose, and I’m there right now: does the painter travel by brig or steamship? Which port does she leave from? To which port does she sail? Who meets her once she gets there? Once there, where does she stay?
I find those questions exciting, because all I need from research is the bare bones of such trips. Once I know that there were gales for five days, I can imagine what that gale felt like. I can decide if my character would brave the gale to go aboard and see the approaching continent. (She would.)
Again, it’s wonderful to have so many choices, but as the title of the series states, you do, ultimately, (as Roy stated) have to choose. But don’t be sad when all of the choices are made — there will always be new questions to ask, new adventures of which to dream. So go ahead, choose your own adventure.