Thursday, June 2, 2011

When It All Comes Together

Athena, I was going to comment on your post, but Google hates me. So instead, I'm just going to mention here that I blame reality TV. Especially American Idol and its variants.

But that's not all that I want to talk about here. No, I'm here to brag a little bit and also, hopefully, share a little bit of infectious glee and get some stories. What I'm talking about is that glorious, shining moment when you first see the shape of your story.

Hopefully it's happened to all of us - a sudden revelation that explains to us how characters or objects are important, how the middle's going to hold up or how the ending is going to play out, what a certain character's motivations are, or just what the theme is (which can help you make decisions about everything else). Whatever it is, it's that corner piece in the puzzle that makes all the others seem to just slot into place with ease. After this realisation, your plot begins to make sense, and your story becomes a coherent whole. You finally know where you're taking it, or rather where it's taking you, and now you have a road map. And all that's left to do is write it.

Or maybe that's just me. Since I'm a bit of a pantser, I tend to start at the beginning with a clear idea of how it should end - but no idea of why the ending seems to work so well or is so important - and a few major events for the middle. Then I write until I get stuck. Then I go looking for inspiration and waste hours and hours and hours on the internets. I'm getting better, though - I used to waste years on the internets when I got stuck. My daily writing quota is helping.

When I get really, truly stuck, though, when my enthusiasm for a project is scraping mud off of the bottom of the ocean and I want to give all of my characters a ding alongside the ear, when I'm seriously considering moving on to the next project but for all the time and effort I've invested in the current one, that's when I go out and mow the lawn. Or shovel snow. Or sweep and mop all of the floors. Something mindless and menial, that will occupy my body and leave my mind free to wander, to connect the dots on its own without me sticking more information into it or tweaking everything it offers up. Usually, I find I know what I'm doing from the very start on projects with any amount of staying power. I just usually don't tell myself.

This happened to me recently. My apocalyptic urban epic fantasy with the elves and stuff has had two major revisions recently, and I was quite pleased with where it was going, until just a little while ago. Then I got mired in apathy and couldn't quite seem to dislodge myself. Finally, I gave up and read a quite excellent book on plot instead. (It was "Plot", by Ansen Dibell, if anyone's wondering, and while it would likely have confused someone just starting out, I think I knew what she was talking about when she wandered off into the vaguely mystical aspects of writing.) The book was very inspiring, actually, and helped me realise that I was trying to write it from the viewpoint of the wrong character.

But it wasn't Ansen Dibell (and yes, that's a pen name) who made the whole thing cohere for me. No, that was going out to mow the lawn and giving my subconscious time to throw up that brilliant flash of light that made the whole thing make sense. I realised that a revelation that I thought was going to be quite important and part of the endgame was actually necessary for the middle, and not as important as I thought it was. Suddenly, the whole story made a lot more sense, and I realised what I was really trying to say.

So what I'm wondering is, do you guys get those flashes of light too? Or do you actually outline? If so, how do you figure out what's going to happen in your middle, and how do you decide what's going to be important beforehand? Does the story ever change shape while you're writing it? What is your favourite part of the writing process? Share, please!


Rhiannon said...


I generally follow the 'make it up as I go' school of thought...which, most of the time, is like the sudden epiphany thing, only on a smaller, more continuous scale. Not trying to say I'm always that brialliant - but I'm almost never writing too far in advance...if that made any sense. Um...I never know beyond a scene or two, or maybe some Big Events I'm trying to get to, what's going to happen next.

Most of the time. Sometimes, like with the Nyathera story, I can see the whole of it laid out in front of me, like a map or a web or something, and all the bits have these glittering threads connecting them, and all I have to do is fill in the bits in between...

Had something similar with The Story That Rainbow Brite Spawned. Just when I had started to drift off, I suddenly realized exactly how I could connect a (until that point) unconnected story, use it to explain and fill out the universe in this other one, give certain characters a backstory, depth, clarity of purpose and all that...and turn TSTRBS (yay acronyms!) from childhood fantasy into something that actually works.

I think, in many ways, moments like these are why I keep writing, even if it's in fits and starts and (lately) without much clarity. Because it's creation - pure creation.

It's almost better than sex.

Well...most sex.

Bad sex, at any rate.


Rhiannon said...

Omg. Not only did I spell 'brilliant' wrong, I used 'a' instead of 'an'. *facepalm*

Athena said...

I don't always write an outline, but I often do, only because I find it speeds the actual writing bit along. That being said, I have definitely had those moments. These days, I often use spreadsheets to keep track of sub plots and backstories, but there are those moments, beautiful moments, when just for a second, I can see all of it, not just the story I'm writing, but a thousand little stories that lead to it, how the characters got to where they are and why they're trying to get where they're going.

And of course, there are those moments when I'm reading the story while I write it, because I have no idea what's coming next - those are my absolute favourite.