My second book is finally out, and as I (figuratively) stare at the wall with no immediate project deadline looming, I hear my muse asking ‘Now what?’ If I had just won the Super Bowl, I’d be tempted to say “I’m going to Disney World!” but I haven’t just won the Super Bowl, and if I had, I’d be lying. Been there, done that. <<crowds>> <<shudder>>
It’s time to ‘fess up. My muse isn’t asking me ‘what’s next’ because my muse already knows the answer. (The reality is that I have more book ideas than I could probably ever commit to paper, and it’s really depressing.) Naria – Irisa and Kassia’s mother – has a story to tell. So how do I go about piecing it together?
Writing The Scribe’s Daughter and The King’s Daughter left me with a certain set of circumstances which now serve as unalterable markers along the path. Many of these markers developed in that timeline’s history, during the time period I will be writing about in Naria’s story. And because those events have been committed to by way of publication, I’m stuck with them whether I like it or not. Sometimes even the smallest and most insignificant things can create big problems when writing another book, requiring a form of mental gymnastics even the most flexible Olympian would cringe over.
It’s not enough to connect the markers along the journey, however. I also have to write a book that is compelling in its own right and can stand alone as a single work.
It feels somewhat akin to the Food Network show Chopped: take these ingredients, some of which are weird and random, and make up a cohesive, believable, and compelling dish. To put it into literary form, take random plot devices, characters, and motivations, throw them into a literary blender, and mix them up into a story which will make people think, be entertained, and moved in a way they wouldn’t have been had they not read the book (my ultimate goal in writing).
To put it another way, imagine it as one gigantic dot-to-dot puzzle. The dots are the points I have to hit, but only some of them have been predetermined. I must add to the partially determined dots, add more, and make a cohesive picture out of them.
So where does one even begin to tackle this puzzle?
For me it’s not as straight forward as developing an outline. Because I write fantasy, I have no history to follow, and therefore no existing timeline. The world is my oyster, as they say. Some people do write fantasy from an outline, but my mind doesn’t work that way. Being an intuitive writer, I have to feel the story onto the page. First I have to wrestle with the abstract, the deepest parts of the characters and their situations. I like to ask about the causes, the triggers, and the various colors that make up their world in their place and time. I have to find a base emotion and empathize, often finding the darkest parts of who they are first, working my way from there. (Flawed characters are usually the most interesting and authentic, are they not? And yes, it’s exhausting!)
At the earliest stages of creation, I have to let the people and circumstances jumble around in my head in a sort of free fall. I have to let the pieces of the puzzle free associate while the problem-solving part of my brain is engaged in another activity. It’s amazing how many plot developments I have come up with while coloring or taking a shower or playing Candy Crush. I have to engage my brain without actively trying to develop anything. That’s when the voices of my characters whisper in my ear, tell me their secrets, share their pains and sorrows. Sometimes I whisper back, “Really??? I can’t write THAT!” They either nod soberly or wait a beat and crack up laughing, saying “No, not really. Just kidding!” The former happens far more often than the latter, I must admit.
This type of free association / abstract thinking creates a sort of mind map in my head (which would be easier if I could digitize it somehow. Perhaps if Spock could do a Vulcan mind meld?) In any case, this mind map is 4-D, having layers and layers to make it crazily complex.
This form of development happens in a non-lineal way. I might have ideas for certain scenes or chapters part way through the book before I’ve even come up with the opening chapters. I might know exactly how the book will end before I even understand the complexities of the causal event before the climax. That’s never bothered me before. The pieces have always fit together in the end, so why not this time?
Do I ever write an outline? Not really, no. Only if I have ideas too complex to hold in my head. But that outline only serves as a placeholder until I can more fully develop the story and characters. Most likely any outline I develop will change and morph over time anyway. Once the organism grows and develops, any outline becomes outdated and must be cracked apart then disassembled.
For now, I know the end of Naria’s story, and I understand the very fundamental part of why. I know the people who influenced her to get to the point of her ending, and I understand some of their backstory. But it will take a pack of colored pencils and a book of zentangle to let her speak to me and fully tell me her tale. If you see me sitting in my backyard, staring out into space and seemingly doing nothing, it’s just because I’m giving myself the head space to ponder and struggle through my ideas. I already know Naria’s journey will be heartbreaking and difficult, and I have a hunch she is going to resist unburdening herself fully. It’s early yet, so perhaps there is plenty of time to encourage her to find some bright spots of color to bring to the forefront, making her journey a little more bearable. It’s the least I can do for a woman who has so much to offer the world.
What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below!