Writing into the Dark as a Rescue Method

Not long after learning about Dean Wesley Smith‘s Writing into the Dark method, I realized the beauty of the thing. It can be used to create new works, in which the writer is almost as much a participant as the reader, but it could also salvage or rejuvenate existing stories as well.

Here’s what I mean.

Writing into the Dark prescribes going at writing without an outline or plan. There is no need for one, if you trust your creative voice (or “mind” if you prefer) and its ability to tell stories well without them.

This sentiment is echoed by story consultant David Baboulene, who says use of structure and frameworks for creation is not how the process should work. Those things are used as troubleshooting methods, not for creation. We write, then we fix what doesn’t work using all the amazing tools story structure and discipline can bring to bear.

For me, the problem comes in that I just wrote book two of a series. Book one, however, has never seen daylight. It’s “finished” depending on definition, but it’s fairly weak and misses on a lot of critical elements of story. I had no idea what I was doing when I did it. (Back in 2007, when I returned to writing after a long hiatus, and having never studied the craft in any meaningful way.)

DWS offered me some great advice, and I almost took it. Almost.

I asked him if I could use the reverse outline method of the Writing into the Dark method as a means to identify where the story went off the rails, and to finally finish it.

I had in mind the last attempt to rewrite the story I took, which was just a year or two ago. I tried to force what I had onto a story structure framework and see what needed to be bolstered. Then I applied dramatica theory to the story to see if I could raise the stakes, get more depth, and basically strengthen the entire deal.

DWS’s advice said, reverse outline what you have. Then take off again, into the dark, and see where the story goes. Give myself one chance at getting it right, doing the very best I can based on where I am in my writing career, and see where it lands. Then call it finished, put it out in the world, and move on. Move on.

But when I started remembering what feedback I got from the few who saw the last “rework” of the story…there were character problems, the story seemed to be missing some logic, and the more I thought about writing that same ol’ story again. the less sense it made to me.

So the real solution is to sit down and start all over again, from scratch, writing away into the dark to see what the outcome will be, what the new story will be, what the characters look and sound like now, eight years removed from their origin. Eight years of learning craft to some degree or other, and one more book with them in it to solidify who they are, how they act, think, speak.

And if I choose to use the same story again, how will I solve the issues which arose from the original? They are manifold, after all, and many of them have to be addressed before the story can work. I have to find a way or I have to find anew.

In the final analysis though, the WitD method will save this book, whichever direction it goes. Either from a salvage operation or from a new piece altogether, the method will be the same.

Now, I just have to get going.


2 thoughts on “Writing into the Dark as a Rescue Method

  1. I think once you get going, most, if not all, of those issues you mention will get solved just in the new writing of it. Give your creative mind the chance to do what it wanted to do the first time.


    Well, that’s the part I don’t think you understand. This *didn’t* come from my creative brain. It came because you kept asking me to write more of it. So I’m not sure the creative voice wanted to do this story at all, and maybe that’s the problem? HM!

    Or, maybe, this is the part *I* haven’t understood until JUST this moment. That this was an exercise, and never a story, and I only kept writing it because “fans” (all three of you) kept it going. So maybe THAT is the issue – my creative brain didn’t want to write it in the first place. Thoughts on that?


    1. Which is even more reason to write it from scratch, as a story, not an exercise, as Book 1 of a series you like, not as a rewrite of a serial.

      Of course you wanted to write it. You wouldn’t have even started it otherwise, exercise or not.


      Maybe. It certainly won’t hurt to try. But maybe this isn’t the story my creative voice wants to write. Maybe it doesn’t like the idea at all, the trope, nothing. I’m not sure how to go about the approach, but I guess it can’t hurt to sit at the keyboard. I can’t think of anything else to try.

      And I tried to end it repeatedly. You (and the other two) kept asking me to extend it. That, and only that, is the reason it ended up as a book/serial.

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