Inside My Head: Listening to the Story

So, it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these “Inside My Head” posts, and once again, as I think was the case every other time, I’m going to let you inside the fiction-writing portion of my cranium and take a chance to talk about the Cleansed By Fire novel, which I guess I’m probably 3/4 the way to completion on, give or take. Seems appropriate, since I’ve temporarily ceded most of the non-fiction posting to Miz Pink while I finsh this first draft of the novel here in this online venue.

So, I’ve mentioned before how sometimes I feel like I’m a tool to tell a story, rather than the creator of that story. How things I’ve planned or thought would happen have often gone 180 degrees counter to that. What I have discovered, I think, is that it’s less that the story controls my choices at times and more than there is a story that exists to be told, and it gets told best if I shut up, calm down, and pay attention.

That is, if I listen hard enough, the story will tell itself.

I came to this conclusion rather recently, when I finished an eight-part saga at my other blog. Being that the other blog is heavily fiction-oriented, I actually have a number of one-shot stories written, as well as several ongoing series. The one I just finished marks the first time I’ve completed an entire multi-part story. And, given that each of those chapters was over 4,000 words at the shortest and over 7,000 in the longest cases, that means I pretty much wrote a novella, I guess.

But at times, I would have to stop, because I just didn’t know what came next, a situation I’ve faced many times in writing the Cleansed By Fire novel, too. Sure, I could force the plot into some certain direction, but I know that isn’t right. I know there is a proper scene that needs to be there but I don’t always know what it is. So, I had several chapters of that eight-part saga already written, but with several missing scenes in each. And, at one point, after completing the first two chapters, I had chapters 5, 6 and 7 mostly written, while 3 was only half done and 4 and 8 weren’t even remotely started.

(Some of you who recall me mentioning that my other blog is erotica-oriented can, by the way, stop snickering and saying to yourselves, “how hard can it be to write a scene where man A fucks woman B or woman C gets it on with woman D while man A watches”…at least half, and probably two-thirds, of my eight-part story was plot, conflict and characterization, and there was a dramatic arc. But the sex scenes sure were fun to write, I admit.)

When I stopped trying to force things, and just listened, I would realize what needed to happen, and the missing scenes and chapters came together perfectly. Often, though, it would not come together at all as I had “planned” in my head. I would have entire chapters that suddenly would go in directions I never intended, focusing on characters I had planned to remain as background noise.

This is something that’s been happening a lot in the novel here, too, and I’m finally learning not to fight it. To listen instead.

It has been in my head that certain characters need to be focused on or that certain things should happen to make my plot entertaining. What I’ve found instead is that the story needs to be told. If that story ends up requiring two or three dozen characters and some of them don’t get seen for chapters at a time, I need to accept that. It isn’t about scenes or focusing on a “star.” It’s about telling a narrative, and just like in life, narratives require several people and not always at the same time. Also, life is not tidy, and I’ve tried too hard at times to make things tidy and bring events and people together who need to remain separate.

Take Paulo, Grace and Gina, for example. And I will assume you’ve read up to the current installment. If you haven’t, don’t continue unless you want spoilers. I had it in my mind that all three characters would be with us for a while. That at some point, the three of them would have to make a break, but they would do so together. I never initially expected that Grace and Gina would be where the hellpod hit. I never expected that Grace would go through slipspace almost unprotected.

Once those things happened, though, I thought I would bring Gina back. Grace would be convalescing at home with her great-aunt, Paulo would be dropping by, and Gina would materialize out of the shadows, missing a hand and sporting several burns on her face and body. We’d find that she managed to slip into a transit station before she burned, and someone with a slipcar took her through a slipgate to safety, but only after she lost her hand in a nearly fatal encouter with some melting portion of building. She would lose both linkpad and IDentipod. But she would see this as her chance to escape the Catholic Union, because she would be thought dead and would be untrackable. She would confront Paulo with the need to flee, even though their daughter was essentially mindless, and the conflict would be Paulo’s struggle with his vows to the Vatican vs. his love for his family and he would be unflagging in his love for his scarred woman even as she struggled with her disfigurements…

Does any of this sound as trite to you now as it does to me in retrospect?

But this was me trying to force a narrative on events that came to me unexpectedly. Thank God I never wrote those scenes. Because Gina is dead. She burned. Which makes sense. It’s especially important, I now realize, that she stay dead because I’m 90% certain that a character who either already died or is going to (don’t want to tip you off who it is yet) will come back from the dead. Sort of. But you know, we can’t have too many dead or presumed dead people coming back, or I’ll have to submit this entire novel as a script run for some soap opera on TV.

So, Gina is dead and will remain so. Paulo was compromised by saving Grace, thus putting him into dangerous waters. Most unexpected to me of all, though, was Grace’s metamorphosis, of which we’ve only gotten a glimpse so far, which will reveal a great deal about slipspace and open some interesting (I hope) metaphysical areas to explore. Suddenly, a three-year-old girl has become a complex and integral character to the storyline. I’m sad Gina is dead, because part of me wanted to explore the love between her and Paulo. But in a sense, I still will be, as their shared offspring is a person who is a little girl physically but anything but when it comes to personality and intellect.

That strikes me as much more interesting than “Gina miraculously survives and the whole family goes on the run.”

I also thought Domina would be a constant factor and an often-seen character. Instead, after seeing a lot of her early on, we haven’t seen much of her for a while. She is a critical character and she will do some pivotal things, but I realize I don’t need to create scenes for her just to have her around. Same with Daniel Coxe. or Bechan Adym. Or Gregory and Amaranth. Or the Sisters of the Red Sun. They will appear when they need to, and I simply have to trust that they will remain memorable enough that when they show back up, readers will continue to give a damn about them and what they are doing.

So, soon I’ll dive back into the writing in earnest. If nothing else, the eight-part erotica/adventure story has inspired me because it proves that I can begin and complete a relatively complex narrative. So now it’s time to finish this novel soon.

All I have to do is keep listening.

If I do, I think the story will tell itself to me clearly enough for me to give you something worth reading.

One thought on “Inside My Head: Listening to the Story

  1. William Dunigan

    Greetings to all in that mighty name of “Jesus”:
    Each Christian of whom know him in the power of His resurrection…or, maybe I should say…those who are well acquainted with the fact, that He truly did come back from the dead…also appeared to His disciples.

    Thomas was invited by Jesus to feel the nail prints within His hands. So, those who also have been convinced by only having His spirit to convince them, having never had the opportunity to feel the nail prints in his hands, as did Thomas: Jesus said blessed are those who have seen and then believed, but greater are the blessings that rest upon those who have never seen, but still believe.

    I am a full time writer and an ordained minister. I have written three books so far. My first book: Reviving the dead church, by reminiscing the day of Pentecost. The second one is: Beyond the Golden Sunset and by the Crystal Sea. My third book: Off to visit the Prophet Elijah, on this one, the contract to publish has been completed and soon the book will be published.
    Warm regards

    William Dunigan


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