Tag Archives: getting rid of what’s unnecessary

Blocked at Every Turn

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.

Photo Credit: Rain Rabbit via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Rain Rabbit via Compfight cc

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.

You’d think.

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.

Some More Friday Flash

Frosty Friday greetings to you all, compadres. How goes it?

It’s a cool day here, and there are dark clouds lurking. I’m waiting for the hailstorms to start. We’re sitting in a little bubble of calm – the calm that prefaces, you just know, the biggest downpour imaginable. It’s my kind of weather.

It doesn't look quite like this, sadly.  Image: layoutsparks.com

It doesn’t look quite like this, sadly.
Image: layoutsparks.com

Work continues apace on the dismemberment of ‘Eldritch.’ I’m down to something like 48,000 words now (from about 63,000), and – particularly over the past few days – the restructuring has been going really well. It almost seems easy, which feels dangerous. I have to keep reminding myself that the words I’m working with (from the old version of the book) are a fourth or fifth draft, so it would make sense that they’re reasonably okay. Because of the revamp job I’m doing, though, it feels like I’m working on a first draft all over again, and so I’m expecting everything to be nonsense. When it isn’t, it feels weird.

Does that make sense? Probably not.

Here, have a picture of Sherlock looking confused. You're welcome. Image: sherlockreactionimages.tumblr.com

Here, have a picture of Sherlock looking confused. You’re welcome.
Image: sherlockreactionimages.tumblr.com

I am losing so much of what I thought made the book unique, and it’s not easy to carve away at words I spent so long perfecting, and choosing, and polishing, and placing with such care. But, at the same time, the story is moving along so much more quickly now and despite everything I’m getting rid of, I’m managing to hold on to lots of the fun aspects of the relationship between my two main characters. Perhaps the reason that my carve-up job is working well is because this is the way the story was meant to be, all along; I should never have been afraid to get rid of the overarching narrative conceit I had been using. I now see that it was confusing and clunky and unworkable, and just because it allowed me to tell the story from the point of view of two characters simultaneously was no reason to keep it.

Sometimes, simpler is better. In fact, nearly always, simpler is better. It’s just unfortunate that this ‘simple’ change has meant the near-total evisceration of the book.

Anyway.

So, it’s Friday. Which means I woke this morning and the first thing I did was check the Flash! Friday website for today’s clues. (No, I’m not addicted. Why on earth would you say that?)

Today’s story elements were as follows:

The compulsory element to include was ‘Aging’ – as a concept, not the actual word itself. The distinction is, of course, vital.

The prompt image was this:

Image: wallartisan.com

Image: wallartisan.com

And so, after much panicked cogitation, I came up with the following small tale:

The Long Step

Pablo knew his time had come, at last. In truth it had come years before, but nobody had wanted to take his hand and lead him to the mountain.

Nobody wanted to say goodbye.

But is wife had been gone so long that only the oldest children remembered her. The sickness had eaten her, and she’d chosen to take the Long Step early.

Pablo had no dependents now.

And so, one morning, he took his silent leave. He dressed simply, bringing only his stick. He slowly climbed the mountain road, savouring the air and the sky and the birdsong, the tang of sore muscles, the thump-thumping of his old heart.

Finally, he reached the end. The Long Step beckoned, out into eternity.

One final breath, and then…

Peace enfolded him, like a closing eye.

Surprised, the women at the mountain’s foot ran to catch the floating baby, newly reborn.

‘Who was due to Step today?’ they asked, but nobody knew.

**

Good luck with whatever the day brings your way, and remember: even if something feels like it’s not working out, or you’re afraid you’re doing something wrong, don’t worry. You could be just starting out on a larger plan, and everything is going to work out just fine.

Wait and see.