Ghosts and Gods in the Machine

My brain is all a-scatter today.

Photo Credit: Neal. via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Neal. via Compfight cc

Focus has been a real issue for me lately. This could be due to tiredness, or anxiety over whether my current book is any good, or stress over the fact that I’ll be receiving edits on ‘Emmeline’ from my agent during the month of August (which will be painful), or it could be due to none of those things, or all of them. All I know is, I sat down yesterday with the intention of finishing my WiP, and it didn’t happen. I struggled to write half a chapter and eventually – my forehead burning and my brain in a knot and my mind and body shattered with exhaustion – I had to give up in the hope that I’d do a better job the next time I tried.

Well, today is upon me now. The ‘next time’ is about to begin. And I feel about as capable of completing the work today as I did yesterday.

I think that finishing a book is difficult, in and of itself, but what makes it more difficult is the fact that, by the time you’re writing your last few chapters, you have to keep a lot of stuff in your head. You’re trying to keep your characters consistent and pick up on the little ‘hints’ you dropped all the way through your story and remember the imagery you’ve already used so you don’t use it again (on this point, I read a book recently which used the exact same metaphor for something twice within a hundred pages, and I found it unspeakably annoying) and you’re trying to bring your plot to a satisfactorily interesting, unique and surprising climax. Is it any wonder that my brain is baulking at the prospect? What adds to my difficulty in this case is the fact that I’m writing a ghost story, which in some ways is cool and in others is ridiculous, because I’ve never written about a ghost before and I haven’t read very many stories about them. Also, I can’t watch films which feature ghosts or spirits for fear of losing what remains of my sanity. So, it’s safe to say I don’t know the genre in any great depth. It was somewhat of a disaster, then, when this story suggested itself to me and having a ghost in it was absolutely vital to its existence.

Booo!! Photo Credit: Shain Erin via Compfight cc

Booo!!
Photo Credit: Shain Erin via Compfight cc

One thing writing this book has taught me, though, is the importance of rules when you’re creating a ‘world’ – and every story creates a world, whether you set it smack-bang in the middle of your own home town or on a far distant moon in the twenty-fifth century. Writing fantasy stories, of course, can involve more rules – the more elaborate and imaginative the world, the more rules you’ll have and the more important it will be not to break them – but even in a contemporary story (which my WiP is, to a large extent), you cannot break the rules once you’ve introduced them. Not if you don’t want your reader to rip your book in half, at least. Contemporary-set stories have to obey the rules of our world – people have bills and mortgages and jobs, and gravity works the way we expect, and people get sick, and accidents happen, and characters need to eat and sleep and go to the loo, and distances have to be crossed without recourse to teleportation or something which would make it any less difficult, and there’s time (which can be a major pain). Then, if the story has other elements – supernatural or magical, say – they have their own rules, which may interfere with the real world all they like, so long as they do it in a systematic, consistent and believable way. The upshot is you make the rules, whether in whole or in part; you’ve just got to remember what they are, and keep to them.

So. In relation to my story: I have a ghost in it. She has certain abilities, which revolve around water. She has a particular ‘realm’ in which she is almost all-powerful, and then there’s the ‘real’ world in which her abilities are limited (though she’s still scary). It’s very important for me to remember these limitations when it comes to writing the conclusion to the story. I’ve been relying on them all the way through the book, and so the worst possible thing at this stage of the tale would be to reverse that, or develop an ‘exception’, or something which is a blatant breach of the construction I’ve worked so hard on up to this point. Pulling the rug out from under your readers – if you’re a master of your craft – works well if you’ve foreshadowed it correctly through the book with just the right balance between blatant ‘Look! Look what is happening over here! My goodness but it is a Hint!’ and subtlety you’d need an electron microscope to spot; anything else just looks like the writer threw their hands up in despair and decided to go for broke. I’m not a fan of ‘deus ex machina‘ (‘God in the Machine’) type plot twists, unless they’re done with huge skill and intelligence – and if they bring something exceptional to a story, which often they don’t. In order to break my own narrative rules, I’d have to rewrite the whole book, which is something I’d really rather not do. There should be no need for drastic action like this if you’ve thought about your plot and characters and you know where you’re going with them.

Which, of course, I’ve done.

In any case, after I shut the computer off yesterday and went to do other stuff in a fit of temper, ideas as to how to bring the book to a conclusion began to trickle into my overheated brain. Some of them were useful, and most weren’t, but it proved once again that giving yourself a break once in a while can be the most useful thing you can do for your writing. Let’s hope that today’s effort flows more smoothly, and that the rules remain unbroken.

If not, I’ll write something like ‘And then a giant donkey fell out of the sky, braying as it came, and it crushed everyone flat until they were all dead and then they flew up into the sky holding hands and singing tralala and everyone was happy. The End.’

(Whatever I come up with, it can’t be worse than that – right?)

 

4 thoughts on “Ghosts and Gods in the Machine

  1. Jan Hawke

    Now you’ve dropped the (not dead) donkey it’s out of your system, so hopefully that’ll release some of the backed up alternatives?! 😉
    You know we writers’re lucky today – our words are mutable and never irrevocable thanks to Messrs Microsoft et al 😉 Let them flow whatever, because you can always change them and keep the ones that work… Main thing is that you splurge something out – even if it only stays there for a few seconds, you’re still ‘doing it’!

    Reply
    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      😀 Thank you for this. Yes, you’re right; I’m glad I’m not living back in the days of scribes and vellum, when every word had to count. Editing is such a luxury! 🙂

      Reply
  2. Maurice A. Barry

    I’m in your backyard tomorrow for 3 days (Bewleys, Ballsbridge), then Carlow for 2, Cork for 2, Galway for 3 and then finally Dublin for 2 (The Lewis Fitzgerald for Aug 10, leaving early on the 11th). Are you near Dublin for any of those times–be nice to meet for coffee or lunch.

    Reply

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