Scary Times

Scary times: I’ve started writing a scene that changes everything, pulling the rug out from under two of my characters. There’s a lot that’s scary about writing this particular scene, starting with the fundamental fear that I don’t have the ability or imagination to give the scene everything it deserves.

On top of that, I don’t know what happens after the big revelation, which happens right away. Structurally, it might be better if the scene ended with the big revelation, but that’s the only way it would be better. Every other way, putting the revelation off would only weaken the scene, since there’s absolutely no story-logical reason for things not to be revealed right away. I’m sure we’ve all seen movies or TV shows, or read books, in which the obvious event is pushed off for no good reason other than the author or producer or director thought, “Not yet, I want to save it.” It’s obvious when it happens and it just makes me roll my eyes.

I don’t ever want to do anything that I know will make people roll their eyes. (Doing it without knowing it is something else altogether.)

The solution is to write through it, of course, and see what happens. This is the hard way, because it requires much thinking and planning and feeling my way. All of that demands focus and focus demands mental energy. So writing this scene will creep along at a snail’s pace.

The one question I want to keep asking myself is, “Why not?” I have a tendency to think, nearly subconsciously, “I can’t do that.” When I start thinking that, or I look away from an idea because I don’t think it’s possible, I need to challenge my assumptions and face my fears. Why not write that idea? Why not let the character do X? For example, I was just thinking about what happens in the scene, and I got the idea to have Ilsabet tell Enser and Narthe she refuses to be a freak. “I can’t do that,” kicked in almost as soon as I had the idea.

So now I have to ask myself why Ilsabet can’t do that? The only valid reason is that Ilsabet wouldn’t, that it wouldn’t be in keeping with who she is. If she’s the kind of person who would say it, there’s no reason she can’t, and maybe I should let her do it, just to see what happens.

I recognize that one thing making me think “I can’t do that,” is that doing it is likely to mess up the plot I’ve come up with, a plot I love very much, a plot I spent months developing. I really want to finish something. Having to go back to the drawing board with the plot is going to slow me down and put the finish line even further away. (Right now, I’m looking at finishing next summer.)

However — and this is key — writing the wrong story, forcing my characters to behave uncharacteristically, just to preserve some design I’ve come up with, wastes time and will eventually slow me down even more, because I’ll have to tear out everything I did, and then do all the plotting work I tried to avoid.

So if following my characters and letting who they are dictate the shape of the story means more work and more time, so be it. It’s only going to strenthen the story in the end.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. jenniferneri
    Jun 10, 2009 @ 19:34:53

    Wow – interesting to read this. I posted yesterday with exactly the same conclusion: a story has to be what it is – it can’t be forced. It’s a living entity that has it’s own mind, and will throw temper tantrums until we give in and listen!


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