"For the sake of humanity, join in Bitterwood's revolt." - Kirkus Reviews

Sunday, April 6, 2008

55827, collapsing wave forms, balls in the air, Swedes

I'm a little embarrassed. I finished two chapters this week and felt pretty done around 7 this evening, when I settled down for a couple of hours of King of the Hill and Simpsons to unwind. Then, when I just now set down to update the blog, I realized I was only 40 words short from having written 10k words this week. If I'd been more aware, I suspect I would have pushed to get out those last 40 words. Then again, the paragraphs are what they are that the moment. The start, things happen, there's a resolution, the characters move on. Adding 40 words for the sake of an arbitrary goal would damage my artistic integrity. (That last sentence should be read tongue in cheek. No, not out-loud with tongue in cheek... you'll only hurt yourself. Please don't sue if this warning came to late!)

This coming week, I have one really clear chapter planned and one pretty fuzzy chapter. It's fuzzy in a quantum mechanical kind of way. It's like the electrons in an atom occupying every possible position at once until an observation is made that fixes their position. Jandra and Shay are going into an underground kingdom. This is a pretty definite starting condition. I know what they are looking for, and I know the big fight obstacle they have to get past. But then, the possibilities explode. They can find what they are looking for, creating one reality for the rest of the book, or they can not find what they are looking for, creating another reality for the rest of the book. I know, two possibilities doesn't sound like that much of an explosion, but each of the two possibilities then branches out again. If I decided they don't find it, then I have two possibilities for which other character has secretly beaten them to it. If I decide they do find it, then I have two possibilities for what will happen to the characters immediately after they grab it. And, of course, two possibilities split from each of those choices, etc. etc.

The longer I can write without making that pivital choice, the more my imagination keeps getting to say, "Oh, but what if...?" That's a big part of the fun of inventing stories. But eventually you have to actually pick an action and write it, and this collapses the wave form of the book to a degree. As you write further, more and more of these wave forms collapse, and by the end, the book is a coherent whole that readers can pick up and enjoy. The author, however, is always left wondering what the book would have been if he'd taken the other forks in the road. The ghosts of books that could have been always haunt a published book. They aren't neccessarily the ghosts of better books; quite likely, many were far worse books. But I, as an author, will always lay awake wondering what these unwritten books would have been like.

A counter aspect to this is that sometimes I put things in books that don't seem like they'll have much consequence at all, and later it will turn out that this small insertion later has huge ramifications. A choice that was more or less random will turn out to resemble some grand master plot. Zeeky, from Bitterwood, drives a major plot thread in Dragonforge when she returns home and finds all the villagers missing. I needed at least one person who had escaped the fate of the other villagers to explain what's going on, so I introduced Zeeky's 12 year old brother Jeremiah. Jeremiah served his plot function, but never quite sparked for me as a character. When I introduced him, I thought I could make him a good foil for Zeeky, and have the two squabbling like siblings for the whole book. But, it just didn't feel right. Zeeky wasn't the squabbling type. So, two or three chapters after he's introduced, Jeremiah is told to run for safety when a fight breaks out, a responsible thing that an adult might yell to a twelve year old boy when danger breaks out. He does so. Events unfold in such a way that the other characters have no chance to reunite with him immediately. They speculate on whether or not he made it to safety, vow to look for him as soon as possible, then get on with the rest of the plot. Effectively, when Jeremiah runs away from that fight, he vanishes from the book.

Now, I've moved on to book three. I originally thought that Jeremiah would have hooked up with Zeeky again sometime between book 2 and 3, but once I started writing the Zeeky scenes, I again found that he wasn't pulling his weight. I already had plenty of characters. He wasn't adding anything to the scenes, so I decided they still hadn't found him. Meanwhile, I had my secondary villain, Vulpine the Slavecatcher, working on a diabolical plot in which he would trick some pathetic human slave into become an unwitting weapon against the rebels in Dragonforge. But, I already have a couple of former slaves in the book. It was tough to figure out what would make this one an interesting character. And then, boom! I realized I already had my answer: When Jeremiah runs from the fight, he keeps running until he's found by people who sell him into slavery. Now, there's an extra-dimension to Vulpine's plot since we know it's not just sinister on the grand scale, but also something that personally endangers a character we already know and who has close ties to a character who is a major driver of events, Zeeky. And, even better, my characters are still looking for Jeremiah, so they can do the responsible thing and go search for him and still get drawn right back into the main plot line. It's like I threw a ball into the air in the second book, then reached a point in the third book where I thought, uh-oh, I need a ball right now, and suddenly the ball I tossed a year ago lands in my outstretched hand. It's moments like this that makes writing feel like magic.

Changing subjects, over at my whateverville blog, I had a post in the comments from a guy named Chris the Book Swede informing me he will be reviewing the Solaris Book of New Fantasy in the next day or two. That book contains a Bitterwood prequel story, Tornado of Sparks, which reveals a major secret about Jandra's origins that has big ramifications in Dragonforge. I checked out his Chirs's blog and there's plenty to read while waiting for that review, including a fresh interview with Karen Miller. Pay Chris a visit by clicking here.

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