"It was a dark and stormy night"

I'm a big fan of the short story writer Ron Carlson.

Yes, I know he writes novels too. I've been hesitant to read them. While some writers do both forms well, it's not as common as you might think. Sprinters don't win marathons. I'll give in eventually and give it a try.

Meanwhile, I just read his Ron Carlson Writes a Story, a short book on writing that does exactly what the title says: it lets you sit next to him at his desk as he writes a story, "The Governor's Ball". That story is clearly a pivotal one for Carlson. His introduction to his combined story collection A Kind of Flying goes through the writing of that story as well, and says it was a start of a new period of productivity for him, writing a new way.

Ron Carlson Writes a Story is charming and quick. What's interesting is that he focuses, not on what makes narrative choices good for a reader, but what makes them good for a writer. He guides the writer in how to set up narrative options, ways of making the story open out rather than close down as you struggle for the next paragraph.

Sometimes when you look at the casing of an electronic device, you think something like "why is that notch there?" The answer is, it is there, not because of some current function, but because the machine stamping it out needed a place to hold it. Same reason your navel has no function. It's an artifact of the manufacturing process (placenta and umbilical).

Carlson doesn't use this metaphor, by the way, so don't blame him for it.

He shows the writer how to make sure narrative choices give you what he calls "inventory": stuff to work with.

Then he quotes another writer, David Boswell.  If I could find the original source, I would go directly to it, but I have been unable to. Perhaps this was what citations call a "personal communication":

The writer David Boswell says it perfectly: "'It was a dark and stormy night,' is not a terrible sentence from a reader's point of view, but it is a terrible sentence for the writer because there's no help in it. 'Lightning struck the fence post' is much better because there's that charred and smoking fence post which I might have to use later." I'm constantly looking for things that are going to help me find the next sentence, survive the story.

In case you got lost in the LISP-like stack of levels that was me quoting Carlson quoting Boswell quoting Bulwer-Lytton's infamous first line of Paul Clifford, so often mocked by the aspiring novelist Snoopy in Peanuts.

It think that is a brilliant bit of advice from Carlson. A writer's goal is to survive the story. Grab whatever will help you do that. You can come back later and edit, but meanwhile, survive is all you can reasonably do.