Most stories I write come from dreams. Well that’s not true. Most things I want to write come from dreams. Getting something out of your head and onto paper is actually much harder than one would think. Unlike dreams, novels have to have some kind of logical structure.
Unlike dreams, you don’t start with the emotion and fill in the details around it. You have to build the emotion through the details.
So, because this process is so hard, my life is scattered with half-written-down plot ideas and files I’d like to call manuscripts, except that most of the writing is the three key scenes that I enjoy the most and have therefore written over and over and over again trying to get perfect.
The biggest culprit is “Mind” which takes up a good section of my Dropbox. I have whole Pinterest boards dedicated to my three favourite scenes. And also a few dozen character sketches. Also a playlist. With album art.
Another hobby of mine is digital art. The more I delve into art, the more it becomes clear that sometimes context is everything. For instance, if you draw someone on a white background and then change it to black, the person will look bleached out. If you juxtaposition orange and green, your eye will be shocked. Make it orange and red and your eye will be soothed. The same is true with writing.
Three great scenes do not make a novel. No matter how brilliantly they may be written after the fifteenth attempt, their impact will be almost completely defined by what comes before or after them. This is the biggest challenge for me, someone who wants to be a writer.
I’m sad to confess that I’ve fallen into the same trap with the novel I’ll be tackling this April. In it Tarra, an alchemy teacher in a world that’s pretty much ours with more trees and more magic, faces the end of the world and stops it. She becomes a strong, fearless, character. She is a person of action driven by a love of her family and for her planet and the people on it. I want to write the scene where her magical powers are a metaphor for her own inner power, the scene where the person she thought of as the greatest evil is revealed to be her greatest ally, the scene at the end when she faces down the sorcerer who betrayed her. What I don’t want to write, or know how to write, are the parts that give these parts meaning.
Any story, when broken down into its major scenes alone, begins to look like a million other stories. A great novel therefore is not about the main plot points. Anyone can be given a great story idea in a dream. It’s about the spaces between the main events, those gaps that never come to you on their own. Sometimes you get stuck trying to fill them, sometimes your filling them leads on tangents, sometimes you write them and they just end up being wrong (repetitive, changing people’s opinion of a character in the wrong kind of way, changing the meaning of the story, not fitting with the theme… the list goes on).
So in one respect Nano is the perfect solution to these little annoying parts of a story (read: 75% of the actual story), on the other hand begin forced to push through quickly is not always good. In Mind I ended up introducing a random character, in Keyflame the main character had to be saved a lot, in this story – that I actually started in July last year – I went on a 10k tangent about collecting potion ingredients. A tangent that I now have the task of completely re-writing. Yay?
I have written out an outline (with pictures) of what happens in the story, but the hard part is determining how these things happen, how they connect, and using them to develop the characters in the right direction so that by the time Tarra gets to face off against her nemesis, people actually want her to win.
Using Nano as a tool to push through the blurry parts of a story is one thing (and it’s quite a big thing because otherwise I probably wouldn’t get that far), but for me this Nano is about more than just getting 50k words on paper, it’s about getting through those gaps quickly, creatively and in a way that complements the other scenes.
I think I’m in for one hell of a bumpy ride this year.