Honoring the Story
Writers I coach have to endure my exhortations to “honor the story” or “honor the characters” until, I’m certain, they would sometimes like to come and smack me. Fortunately I do most of my coaching by phone. And later, of course, they admit–sometimes grudgingly–that their stories are better for my nagging them to stick to their visions rather than taking the easy way out of story problems.
Today–this whole week, actually–I’m working from that lesson myself. At the beginning of the week, in the midst of the wheels coming (surprisingly, at least to me) off Deaclan’s how-to-be-a-majordomo cart, a member of the Nimrod organization turned up so unexpectedly that he even surprised me. Like most of the tertiary characters in Affairs, the Nimrods are based on some real-life alt-history/conspiracy theory fodder; one of my great challenges in developing this novel has been taking the subjects of those theories and bringing them to life in ways that serve the overall series, the reader, and the plot of this particular novel.
I’ve learned not to discount those little mystery presents the muse hands me; but sometimes they mean I have to stop and rethink my plans. This was one of those situations. Suddenly I had to figure out *why* that guy was so suddenly on scene: I felt I had a handle on the agendas and constraints from which the Nimrods were operating, and this guy turning up here & now didn’t fit with what I thought I knew.
So…back to my source materials. I had some background (read: alt history/conspiracy theory) that had been sitting neglected on my shelf for a while, mostly because trying to make all of those different theories line up into one coherent whole tends to make my brain explode, and when it does I must go away. But I knew exactly which pieces I could use to dig into my Nimrod motivations, and they were nice and short, so I sat down with them. At first all I was getting was nuggets of detail that will be nice for verisimilitude but not important enough to help me work out my (obviously neglected) motivational set for this organization.
Now, for better or worse, this novel is far from the only thing I’m working on right now. I am still engaged in the process of connecting Larissa’s book with its readership and planning the launch, not to mention working on client projects and having a family life. So it took me until yesterday to finally run up against the thing I needed. It made a whole lot of things that had been fuzzy make sense–and it made me have to shift aspects of backstory and a few small areas of plot. It also gave me that brain-exploding feeling that working with these theories so often does. (Right before a meeting with a client. Nice timing.)
So–Oh, groan, here I go again. I am 200K into this novel, and a month late on my deadline. I don’t want to have to rearrange things. Can’t I just wave my magic fantasy-writer’s wand and declare this difference between my fictional world and the real-world underpinnings Of No Consequence?
Yeah, I could. But honoring the real-world facts makes my story world much more believable. It was just a bit too neat to give a proper real-world sense, before. So even though it’s inconvenient, I am already improving my story. And as I began to dig into the meat of the scene, to figure out what–in my updated scenario–this guy was up to, little bits of future plot that I hadn’t quite worked out came into focus. And above all, it’s a better ride for the reader, a better and truer story.
It’s still a pain in the ass.