Monday, May 10, 2010

A Breakthrough

Okay, I figured out my bad guy. And it has brought in a whole new element of mythology and history that I hadn't anticipated. How exciting! Doesn't it sound like sometimes stories have a life of their own? Sometimes I read about authors who speak about their books like they are people-- unpredictable and erratic and disappointing at times. But they kind of do have a life of their own don't they? I can't always predict where my story will go. Occasionally I hit a wall and have to course correct. My story goes down a path I didn't expect.
Anyway, back to the topic-- I figured out my bad guy! Yay! There are still a few details to work out, but at least it's a beginning. I have heard many times about "world building," or working out the history of your story. Some authors have copious notes about what happens before the story even takes place-- or even what will happen after. Like Star Wars. Did George Lucas have the beginning three movies worked out before he produced the fourth movie first? I believe he did. He knew where his characters had come from, what made them who they were long before the audience was even introduced to them. I remember watching an interview with J.K. Rowling after her third Harry Potter book came out. She said she had the last chapter of the last book already written and stored away in a safety deposit box somewhere. She knew exactly where the story was headed and how it would end. Not that she didn't probably hit some of those detours I just talked about, but no doubt she knew the direction the story needed to go-- even if there were a few unexpected turns along the way.
I never totally appreciated the importance of this until I started writing myself. As I talked about this latest roadblock with my husband, he made a poignant observation (especially for someone who doesn't write, and really doesn't like to read fiction much either). He said, "the more you know about the past, the better your story will be." Funny that even people who don't know a lot about writing have great instincts when it comes to stories. Most readers do-- even if they can't put words to it. They can read a story and say, "That character doesn't seem real," or "I didn't like the ending," or whatever. They may not be able to say exactly why it's not their favorite (or, like with my husband, they can tell you exactly what it is missing), but most readers have the instinct to see that something isn't right. It's our job as writers to identify the problem, put a label on it, and then do what we can to remove it from our stories.

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