Much of the process of writing is boring. Fun-boring, perhaps, the way that putting together a 1000-piece puzzle is fun if not YEAH LET’S GO FINISH THAT PUZZLE WOOO fun. You spend much of the time silently puzzling out the … puzzles … of how all the little fiddly bits fit together. If I want to have that character jump over a cliff to save his dog later in the novel, how do I foreshadow that moment earlier in the text? If that character has a deathly allergic reaction to oranges in chapter three, can I somehow twist that for the resolution in chapter twenty-seven? My character seems to want to collect postcards from everywhere she visits by the end of chapter twelve… did I have her collecting the tongues of her vanquished foes instead in chapter eight? Better go back and revisit…
You slog through those moments, creating back story, laying foundations for the future, discovering odd little curiosities about your characters along the way, and meanwhile the story meanders forward not unlike a stream: a little cascade over rocks here, a long slow flow of calm water there, a spontaneous whirling eddy over here (not to be confused with Whirling Eddie, the circus performer)… but stories have a life of their own, and just as a somnambulant stream can turn into a vicious torrent with a summer storm, so too can a story surge to life with the proper impetus.
Like, oh, say, the hero deciding she’s had enough of the idiots around her spouting theoretical scientific mumbo-jumbo about time travel and alternate futures and the dangers of wandering through free-standing space-time portals without observing all applicable safety protocols, then running out of the safehouse she doesn’t believe is actually a safehouse, straight into the cold steel arms of one of the very robots the mad scientist was just warning her about.
Or, you know, something. Purely hypothetical, that. Definitely didn’t just write that in my new novel today, over lunch. Nope. No robots or mad scientists here. What are you looking at? Get away from my non-robot-involving, non-mad-scientist-featuring draft.
I wasn’t planning to write that moment today, but all of a sudden my hero decided she’d had enough of sitting around listening to exposition and decided to blow the story the fargo up by walking out of it (and of course, karmically, [is karmically a word?]) walking right into it.
I’ve enjoyed drafting the new novel, but today I couldn’t stop writing. Just like that moment where you can’t put the book down, I kept saying to myself, just one more sentence. Just one more paragraph. Just see what happens next. And I can’t wait for my next drafting session, wherein I’ll get to find out what does happen to my hero next. Because, while I have the general plot for the story mapped out, her getting captured by robots was not necessarily something I expected. Er, not captured by robots. She was, um. Inconvenienced. By… aphids. In her garden. Tomatoes. Very frustrating. No spoilers here.
But expected or not, I think you have to embrace these little detours when they crop up. Outlines are great, and having the end in mind is a fine way to craft a story, but I firmly believe that stories, like life, have minds of their own, and if authors don’t allow those stories a bit of leeway to stretch their legs and explore the side streets a little bit, well, you miss a lot of the fun along the way.
And, as always, I fully recognize that this particular diversion might suck. It might not work with the narrative as a whole. It might have to get cut completely from the book when I get down to the editing part. The sucky part. The I-want-to-kill-myself-with-white-out part.
But you can fix all that in post, as they say.
For now, it’s time to stop and smell the robots.
Roses. Smell the roses.
No robots here.
*hears the whir of servos*
*goes to investigate*
2 thoughts on “A Narrative Sugar Rush”
Great post. I am working on a part two right now, which is…interesting. Up until yesterday I had the part one available to mess with, which was really quite cool, because I could be like “Oh, hey I should change this thing to make this other thing work better. Yeah.” But now that I have published part one I no longer have that option so I just have to work on this part and try to stay focused and remember stuff. My memory is crap, so I am constantly going over my work, and over it and over it. This means I am so damn tired of looking at it I want to set it on fire. Alright then, back to it I go!
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And isn’t it hard to talk about your work without giving things away? “change this thing to make this other thing work…” so people reading it think you’re an idiot! I know that struggle.
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