You know when you see a mouse in a maze, and it’s running up a passageway only to find it’s blocked off, and so then it changes direction and runs down another passageway only to find – horrors! – that it’s blocked off, too, and so on?
Yes. Well. I always had huge sympathy for mice in those sorts of situations. From now on, though, I will have even more, because, right now, that mouse is me, people.
You see? I’m so stressed I’m using too many commas.
I’m about three-quarters of the way into my rewrite of Eldritch. My hero is in a bind. He’s trapped in the presence of a powerful, but unhinged, relative who has A Nefarious Plan. Of course, my hero has a secret weapon, but it’s not one he knows about yet – and even if he knew he had it, he wouldn’t know how to use it, anyway. So, as you can see, plenty of scope for dramatic tension.
The first version of this story had the hero trotting off, at this point, on a whole rambling sub-plot about magical creatures which (for reasons best known to the automaton who appears to run my brain) appeared in the story, just because. I got myself all tangled up in their world, their King, their city, their rules and laws – and after about ten pages of this I came to a screeching halt and went…
What is the point of any of this?
So I stopped, forthwith, and went back to the last good point in the story. We have the hero and his relative facing one another down. Cue lots of mwahaha-ing and threatening language and displays of awesome magical power, and in this version the hero accidentally discovers how to use the secret weapon we talked about.
It should’ve been brilliant. But instead it was – flat. Ridiculous, actually. Images which looked so cool in my imagination came out of my fingers like so much fluff.
I junked all that, too, and went back to the first storyline which – if I’m being honest – seemed to flow better in terms of my ability to put one word after another, but I still had the nagging question in the back of my mind all the time. What is the point of any of this? Having been through a substantial edit on another book, I could anticipate my agent reading the work I was doing. I could see her comments. ‘Sorry, but what in the world is going on here? What does this have to do with anything?’ The only answer I’d be able to give her would be ‘Nothing. None of this has anything to do with anything, because it’s just silly. And unless I can find a way to tie it to the larger plot, it’s a piece of pretty decoration but not a lot else.’
Which meant, of course, it has to go.
So then it was back to rethinking the other plot, the secret weapon one. I had to consider what I wanted my character to do at this point; what does he need to learn? He has to overcome a difficulty, sure – but it doesn’t have to be a difficulty on the magnitude of being taken hostage by a bunch of magical creatures and having to fight his way out of their clutches at the same time as trying to fight his deranged relative. He has to learn that he has power within him which he hasn’t tried to tap, yet; he has to learn that when he needs to make a last stand and deliver, that he has the goods. So, there has to be another way – a neater and more pleasing way – of doing that.
There has to be.
So I decided to consider the scene in relation to the story overall, keeping in mind the larger movement of the book. One of the reasons I felt the scene with the magical creatures wasn’t working was that it was too slow, and took the story away from the primary field of action for too long. It wasn’t necessarily a bad scene, badly written or uninteresting – it just didn’t fit where I was trying to put it.
The first question I asked myself was: what is this scene trying to illustrate? I realised that the answer lies in several parts. Firstly, the power of the antagonist, and the lengths to which he’ll go to get what he wants. Secondly, the power – as yet untapped – of the protagonist, who knows not only his life, but also the lives of people he loves, are being put in danger by his relative’s megalomania. Thirdly, it has to hint at (but not give away entirely) the method by which the hero will eventually fight the antagonist, and I don’t want there to be too much repetition going on. As my agent said, repeatedly, on my last MS: ‘Ring the changes.’ As in, don’t allow yourself to fall into the trap of using the same structure, plot device or conceit too often. It’s really easy to do, and it can be really hard to fix. I’m still not sure how to distinguish this preliminary battle scene from the one which I’m sure will come later – the showdown – but I think I have a calmer handle on the story at this point. I think. Though I’ve yet to look at it today, so that might all change in the next thirty minutes.
Anyway. I think I can safely say I found this technique (wherein I stop running around bashing myself into walls for long enough to think about the actual book and what I want it to do) very helpful. I keep forgetting who’s in charge when it comes to writing; I think of the book as being the one who calls the shots, neglecting to remember that I’m the writer and therefore the shots all lie with me. I also tend to put myself under so much pressure, as though there’s a looming deadline, that it destroys any sense of creativity or fun I might have in my work. There really is no need to panic: the calmer you are when looking for your story, the easier it is to find it.
That’s the theory, anyway. I’ll let you know how it all works out.