Last week I talked about how sometimes ideas assail me, story concepts or character ideas that want to make the difficult transition from idle fancy to fully-fleshed reality.
It is really easy to just daydream the good bits: the dramatic confrontations, the epic climaxes, awful betrayals, heartbreaking deaths, hard-earned victories. And any amount of acid-tongued conversation. I think a lot of people get stuck at that stage, or perhaps after sketching out their favourite sections, villainous villains being especially venal, and then their richly deserved defeat and downfall, long-awaited and eagerly anticipated. Those are the easy parts, the fun-filled stage where you can imagine what you want, insert whatever you need, because there is no narrative structure to constrain you, yet. Sooner or later, however, you’ve got to take the story, and your hoped-for readers, along the long road from Alpha to Omega, from story set-up to completion.
The problem is bridging the gap in time between your (for instance) villains getting away with murder and finally receiving their just deserts. In The Thief and The Demon there was a lot of ground to cover between the opening and the final confrontation between the title characters. A whole world of ground. I had a lot of ideas studding the time between, and quickly wrote a long outline detailing it, but even that left gaps that would need to be written: bridging material to make all the high-points work.
Connecting the dots can be less fun than writing the set pieces you first fell in love with. Or it can be more: it is very hard to tell which will be which before you start writing it. I’ve experienced the process a few different ways in the course of my writing career. Sometimes the connective writing becomes so much more exciting than imagined, adding tons of texture to the characters, story, and themes I was building. This is an absolute delight to experience as a writer: the ideas flow into each other and create a new, stronger whole. Or the interludes can be as difficult as anticipated to bring to life and made to fit in terms of feel into the other parts of the story I clearly enjoyed writing more. (That was more the case in my earlier unpublished writing, I feel – but of course I could be blind to current examples of the same tendency!) I’ve also slogged through writing what I thought would be a fantastic scene, a great set piece long imagined, only to find the first writing of it to fall terribly flat – I’d told myself that part of the story so many times when walking, showering, or waking up that actually putting it down seemed a pale echo of the better versions I had already created.
I am drawn to fantasy by vivid imaginings, but I am impelled to write it by the need to put flesh on the bones of those scenes, to give those shining flashes context worthy of them, and to make everything in that world work as a whole. My desire is not to be content with a fifteen second elevator pitch of the groovy bits, but to put the story together as a complete entity, and for everything to complement the original conception I had, and hopefully in writing actually improve upon the original ideas. When I have breakthroughs as I’m writing the bridging sections of the story, when I realize how and why these sections are just as important as the highpoints I imagined first, then I know I’ve got a real tale worth telling.
To the writers out there: does your experience reflect mine at all, or do you have a very different process? Do you start out wanting to write the highlight reel sections of the book and get bogged down in what you can’t help but think of as ‘filler’ at first, or do you treat every section the same? Or some other approach? I’d love to hear how you deal with this part of translating the original ideas for a book into the finished article!