So I’m working on yet another story, and I’m not gonna give you any details, for fear of jinxing it, but it’s…flowing, in that terrifying way that some stories do, where you go to jot down a line and it picks you up and throws you down and the line turns into 1200 words without you being quite aware of it.
I fear this. Catholicism is imprinted deeply in my family’s DNA, and thus anything that comes easily is automatically suspect and probably undeserved, but beyond that, stories that grow too quickly and easily often lack backbone, and when the words suddenly stop being easy and you have to gouge each one out from the stones inside your chest, well…sometimes that story dries up and blows away, and that’s the end of that. So I am approaching it with caution, in case it turns on me.
This does, however, put me in mind of a couple of comments on the last post I did about writing advice, where a surprising number of people said that their problem with writing was that in five minutes, they know the story and then they’re bored.
Obviously if you are bored it is difficult to write without also boring the reader, but I would suggest anyone suffering from this give it a go anyway, at least once, because even when I think I know a story, it’s amazing how often I turn out to be wrong.
Even in a fairy-tale retelling, where you pretty well know the plot and what happens, it’s amazing how much room there is to be wrong.
When I started writing this thing, I knew the heroine’s father was not around for some reason, I knew that she was a gardener and had a couple of sisters (one does, in fairy tales) and I knew more or less the plot.
I did not know that she had a very stupid horse that stumbled when he tried to run, that the hero was a smartass (I didn’t know that, in fact, until he opened his mouth and said something sarcastic) that the plot would involve birch trees, that one of the heroine’s sisters was dangerously insightful and the other one cried non-stop, and that a scene I’ve had floating around in my skull for years would suddenly glom onto the end of the story like a remora.
This is a lot of things not to know when the plot, being a fairy-tale, is rolled out in front of you like a forest path, with helpful crones and talking animals to point the way, excellent lighting, and complimentary copies of The Hero With A Thousand Faces placed every thirty feet.
It’s much more pronounced writing something like Dragonbreath, where, in fifteen thousand words, I generally find out that something tied into something else in a way that I never expected and I wander around going “I AM A GENIUS!”*
Someone—I think it might be Patricia Wrede, but hell if I can remember—said that her method of writing is to outline the book, write a chapter, say “No, no, this is all wrong!” and throw out the outline, write another outline, write another chapter, say “No, no, this is much worse!” throw out the outline, write a new outline, write another chapter…well, you see the pattern here. That’s a lot of outlining, certainly more than I would do, but it’s gratifying to see that other people are also often very wrong in what their story was about and where it was going.
To go at it another way, there are books that are intensely plot driven. They know who they are, and may be excused to go sit in the hall and pray for our souls. Most of the books that I enjoy, however, and certainly the ones that I write, are basically an excuse to hang out with the characters, and occasionally in that world. The plot is important, but the book is a great deal more than the plot.
One of my absolute favorite books has a plot as follows: There’s a princess. She doesn’t fit in well, so she takes up killing dragons, and then there’s a really big dragon that she has to kill. Then she kills a wizard, who was sending an army to take over the kingdom, and comes home with the magical McGuffin and saves the day.
And this is, more or less, the plot. And the fact that I have reduced Robin McKinley’s elegant and brilliant Hero and the Crown to that synopsis means that a YA fantasy hit squad will be coming for me shortly, because that is so completely and utterly not what the book is about, and does massive injustice to a story that I read until the binding fell apart and I had to buy another copy. Knowing the plot of that book does no good whatsoever—you have to sit down and read it, because the plot is the least of what the book is.
If that makes any sense.
So, anyway. If you genuinely know everything about the story already, them’s the breaks. I’d suggest trying to write it anyway. It is possible that it will plod along in exactly the fashion you envisioned, in which case your boredom is entirely understandable, but hey, you never know. You might just be wrong.
*Still outnumbered by the amount of time I spend wandering around going “I AM THE STUPIDEST THING IN CREATION AND ALSO A HACK AND I THINK I FEEL A ZIT COMING UP ON MY FOREHEAD.”