I read a fair amount of stuff about writing, unsurprisingly. And one of the things I’ve noticed is that a lot of people talk about choosing what happens in a story, about whether event X sends a message, whether character Y needs to go or to be in more. And it’s good, it’s all good: people talking about writing is a shiny thing. But here’s the thing: I don’t get it. Sure, I sort of get it. I understand, intellectually. I’m smart and I can spot patterns with the best of them (or at least a reasonably high subset of them) — it’s easy enough, having finally trained myself to do it, to deliberately look at something and say, oh well this could be Q or S or even T. But it’s another thing to sit down and write it.
When I start on something, usually it has an image, or a character, or an abbreviated sequence of events: some kind of concept that represents a base point. The Fused, for example, started life as a dream. Ascension/Reclamation: a dream combined with an ancient short story. Kirai’s tale actually did begin with a very overstretched analogy, but that’s because I was writing for a competition with very little time to spare and didn’t have any base ideas. (That part has also needed a complete rewrite.) Before the Sun Fades: Rakariel, who’s a very old character indeed (though not, I think, as old as Wildcat!) combined with the concept of the hidden valley.
So that’s the start, the seed. Next I pick out my primary characters (Kirai and Ren, for example), and work out who they are, how they react, what they’ve done, where they think they’re going. How they think and how they see the world. At the same time, I’m building backdrop. The countries they live in and planet/s they live on, the event where they meet, the people they know, the natural laws of the world — not human laws, real laws, the way reality works. Laws of physics, adjusted to suit. (What can I say, I write fantasy/sci-fi.) Background biology. All that crazy stuff.
Now I have a rough map, and some people. And at that point… all I can do is wind up and let them go. The moment they establish personalities is the moment that my control is gone. I can write down anything I want, of course, but it feels utterly wrong, utterly dead, and the character in my head — I maintain their ‘simulations’, if you like, at all times pretty much subconsciously; it’s a natural process for me — starts shouting at me. So I let them go, and I see what they do. Sometimes they do what I expect… and sometimes they veer off into uncharted territory altogether, like Cadeil, an intended ten-line bit-parter who ended up joining a major plot-point quest to kill his own brother because he couldn’t keep a sufficiently blank face and is a bit too naive. (It’s a very long story.) I saw it coming with all the dread inevitability of an oncoming train about halfway through the conversation he was having, but short of grandly dropping in on the story in person and completely derailing everything by existing, there wasn’t much I could do about it beyond stare for a minute and then get back to writing down what was going on.
I can decide how much of Cadeil’s story I include or cut out. I can write about it or not, as I please — but I can’t change the fact that he did what he did, said things with the gist of what he said, or that any time that group of people encounters his brother, their meetings will now be a million times more complicated. Sure, I can run back and change possibilities. Maybe in an alternate universe he was out fetching wood when the patrol came through, or something, and missed them altogether. But if they meet at all, that’s what will become of him. I can’t change that. Whatever message someone might think it sends, that’s who Cay is even if he is kind of an idiot, something he’s certainly not thanking me for saying about him.
Almost as much fun is the series of discoveries. Sometimes these people, these characters I have constantly running in the background, will do something that to me, at the time, looks completely inexplicable — but later, much later, I’ll come across events in their past somewhere that suddenly make me go “Wait, so all this time that’s why you reacted like that?! And here I thought you were just being seriously weird…” Bearing in mind that I’m not always looking for these events, that in some cases I’d almost forgotten the actions that they later explained… it’s all very entertaining! And yet again, there’s not that much I can do about it.
So it’s all very interesting to read about how you have to cut X here or insert Y there or have Z say something else. But me, personally, I just can’t do that, and while I can intellectually understand the concept, I can’t figure it out emotionally, let alone get it down to my subconscious — nor am I at all sure that I want to. It may have its flaws, but doesn’t everything? And anyway, most importantly, I like it!