Tuesday, December 12, 2017

How a narrative orphan became a favorite child

I’d been writing a fiction series. Two books had been published, Dancing Priest and A Light Shining, and the sequel had been sitting in manuscript form, some 70,000 words, for quite some time. There was too big of a story gap between No. 2 and and the sequel, so I couldn’t simply skip over the gap and cover it with some narrative filler or explanation in the sequel. The gap demanded a complete novel.

Ideas weren’t the problem; my brain was seething with them. Neither were plot developments, new characters, and new conflicts. Perhaps I had too many possibilities. And there were fragments and chunks of manuscript set aside or removed entirely.

Could all of this be tied together?

I tried several approaches, and not one worked, or worked well. The more I floundered with manuscript No. 3, the louder the No. 4 manuscript became, like a siren song enticing me into its pages. I didn't want to fiddle with the "gap novel;" I wanted to get on with the one just sitting there, waiting to be finished.

I was getting nowhere. It wasn’t writer’s block as much as it was narrative frustration. I’d stare at the computer screen, try writing some words, and sometimes write more than 1,000 words before I’d throw up my hands in disgust. This isn’t working, I thought. Over and over again.

I knew what my frustration was – that story almost demanding to be written. It would be so easy, with it just sitting there and waiting, for me to turn my back on the gap. But a voice inside my head told me that would be a mistake, because I would be spending an enormous amount of effort combining No. 3 into No. 4, or fixing No. 4 to account for No. 3. Too much would have to be explained. No. 4 made sense only because there was No. 3.

Then I went for a long walk. It was a cold, sunny day in early spring. I left my house and walked my usual twice-a-week walk of about three miles. Somewhere in that first mile, I heard one of the characters speak, and his heart was almost breaking.

At the very beginning of the story, this character is watching the hero leave his home. He’s leaving with him because he’s working with him. The hero’s family is leaving as well. Life has profoundly changed. And this character begins to tell the story. And this is what he says: "I wrote this down because that first year, those first six months, explained everything that came after."

I had my way out of my writing morass. An unexpected narrator.

For the next two miles of my walk, the pieces began to click into place. I couldn’t believe how I had been missing what was now so obvious.

When I got home, I began to write, or actually, rewrite, everything I had up to that point. I turned the manuscript on its head. A villain emerged. So did new characters and sub-plots. A couple of other narrators, including the villain, began to speak. New scenes arose, scenes that took the hero into new directions that fit the story arc. While the story still went from the A to the Z I had originally envisioned, just about everything from B to Y changed, and changed dramatically.

The gap novel was no longer filled a gap. It had been my narrative orphan. And it had become its own story, and could stand on its own if it had to.

And iit's become my personal favorite book in the series: Dancing King.

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