The Writing Life: What Have Deadlines Got to do with Past Tense Boxes of Chocolate?

I don’t know what I’m going to write this week, so I’m just going to start like this and see where my mind takes me, and come up with a title to match the verbiage produced.

Is the writing life like a box of chocolates? If so, have I been chewing on the same near solid toffee/hardened caramel for the last few months? Chewing and chewing on one scene, to finally escape it, thinking maybe I’ll be done with this toffee and get onto my favourite cream centres, a whole run of lovely bits of action and conversation, but no, the toffee just shifted and got stuck to my teeth with the very next bite, locking my jaws together in that way that has you fearing you’ll pull a tooth out when you manage to snap them apart. Hot tea through a straw might help break it down. Now what could that be a tortured metaphor for?

Maybe for the decision to schedule an editor and as a result create a hard deadline for myself. It worked last time! (Really well, though this time I’ll be juggling in work too. I’m up for it!) Everything in the story is mapped out, with room for me to add in some thematically too good to ignore surprises if they occur to me, the words just need to be, you know, written down! (I have a strong sense that good ideas are waiting to erupt out as I write the final act, which may be why I haven’t embraced writing it – but inaction really does you no good. I’ve used the “I’m letting my subconscious work the problem” excuse enough times to know when it has been exhausted!)

I’ve also been thinking about what happens after I get this draft done. Specifically about tenses and continuity, things I want to have had a very solid whack at before my words go out for editorial input. The Killer and The Dead is written in the first person, something I wanted to do for the challenge of it, because it suited my story, and because I’ve always wanted to write a first person novel since I first read a somewhat mildewed copy of Nine Princes in Amber. I still have that copy. It’s awesome.

Anyway, writing a tale recounted in first person can be tricky, because you are by definition telling a story that has already taken place, so embedded in the past. The problem is, if you are replicating a teller of a tale, there are times when the teller him or herself will get taken up in their tale, and retell an incident as though it were happening in real time. How to do this without getting hopelessly confused, or confusing the reader? How to tell when it is the speaker of the tale getting involved in the story so much they shift tense versus our clumsy scribe just forgetting his tenses and switching to versions of the present because that is how he’s thinking that afternoon? It is going to be an interesting problem to deal with. I suspect shifting to past tense all the time outside of my framing device will be the sensible option. Which can be grudgingly explored!

Much easier is dealing with continuity (Ho ho!) – I started out with one chronology, but realized it needed to be telescoped in order to make sense of the decisions made and actions taken by the significant actors in our tale. Fixing that will be fun and not too tricky. More complex is making sure that everything in the book either adds to, or enhances world building elements of The Thief and The Demon, and sets up revelations to come in The Slavegirl and The Traveller, and subsequent tales. This is accepting of course that not everything has to agree, and sometimes I deliberately want it not to, as a prelude to ‘truths’ being discovered later. It’s the best kind of brain ache, one that begs for a Gordian knot of a flowchart to keep track of all the truths, lies, and misunderstandings. I prefer fifty and one hundred page ‘planning’ documents, with various key nuggets lost at random on pages 34 and 77. More toffees for me to chew on right there, but my brain needs the steady supply of glucose to keep on top of all of that, so the chewy chocolate covered delights are welcome then!

So that’s it for today. I suspect I could break this into two or three separate articles, each with their own theme, but what the heck, this is where the road has meandered for now. Let’s think of this as blog seeds for later! Have a good day all! Random Tina Turner shout out seeing as she kind of lurks in the title I came up with!

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