Imagine, for a moment, a tower that’s built piece by piece over a number of years. It starts as a one story house with a solid foundation; over time, another story is added, then another. Soon it reaches into the sky, and grows higher and higher. It gets that cartoonish curve you see when someone draws something tall and rickety. If it keeps getting higher, what’s going to happen?
It’ll crumble like a house of cards. Unless, of course, you continue to work on the foundation.
This is the trouble, I find myself in currently. Over the weekend, my wife and I were doing some shopping and I had a creative epiphany that solved one of the question I’ve had about my Tapestry Project: how do I bring my main conflict–a behind the scenes war between gods–into the forefront so it means something to the characters? The idea was a war between two fey tribes, the Winterkin and Summerchilde. The conflict has been waged for centuries in an alternate plane of existence, and it’s now bleeding into the real world. Sounds compelling, or so I thought.
The problem was that, in shoehorning this concept into my existing framework, I’ve effectively built too many stories (forgive the pun). Magic in my World is a product of the Elements–I’d have to equate that somehow to the seasons if I have Summer and Winter fey tribes. I haven’t introduced fairies into my story, so I have to make them fit before giving my characters that identity. Having an unseen world that lurks beneath Tornum gives a lot of opportunities, but requires some retooling to make sense. And, ultimately, I’d be adding a core concept to the book.
Really, this epiphany doesn’t work–not for this story, anyway. I like the idea and may use it elsewhere, but for Tapestry, it’s a dead end. But it was revelatory for another reason.
It showed me that my overall story, as much as I’ve worked on it and tinkered with it over the years, has an awful lot of holes. It’s a tower waiting to be toppled by the slightest breeze. Why? Because I keep adding to it.
It’s a good story–I think so, anyway. It’s one I’ve wanted to write for a long time, and I’m excited to finally be doing it. But it’s become larger than itself now, and I’m trying to incorporate too many disparate elements in an effort to make it interesting. This is what happened the last time I put it down. It collapsed under its own weight, and I simply couldn’t keep it straight anymore. This time, I don’t intend to abandon it–but something needs to be done.
This is a very valuable lesson for me. If something as simple as a cool idea can tear the foundation of my story to pieces, there’s something wrong. I need to repair the foundation, rather than thinking up new and creative ways to solve the problems inherent in the story. I didn’t expect that lesson, but I’m glad for it. It’s given me a lot to think about.
And lo, as if the Great Muse was thinking of me as I pondered my problems, I came across this article, How To Strengthen A Story Idea. Go ahead and click on the link, it’ll open in a new window. The greatest thing I took away from this article is that if you feel that your story is falling flat, you’re in trouble. You have to reinvigorate it somehow, and it’s likely a larger problem than warrants adding some action or a new character. To quote the author, Roz Morris, you have to “recreate the gut ‘wow.'”
How do you do that? I’m just learning that myself, but this article is a great place to start. In the back of my mind, I’ve known for a while that my story is getting too complicated. Most of the research I’ve been doing will end up in the ‘background,’ colouring the characters, setting and themes, but that doesn’t mean it’s strong, or relevant to the story. I have to find our what is, and go with that.
This is what I’ll need to consider over the next while. Do I need to involve kabbalah, I Ching, Tarot, astrology, alchemy and theological philosophy? Do I need to have each character’s name reflect some esoteric or occult meaning? What’s really important for this book?
The answer to that question, simply, is the story. That’s what’s important. I can have all the window dressing I want: if the story isn’t good, the book’s not good. The narrative is the foundation–and I can add as many stories to the tower as I want, it won’t do a lick of good if I don’t have a strong foundation.
So where does this leave me? I’m of a mind to shelve the project for a while, work on something else, and come back to it with a clear head–something suggested in the article above. I’m wary of that though, because I know myself. If I put it down, even for a couple weeks, there’s a chance I’ll neglect it completely.
So for the moment, I’m going to continue working on it–through research, if not actual writing. I need to get back to basics, and my research on Tarot will give me that anchor. Once that’s complete, I should be able to get a clearer view of the overall story, do some revised plotting and outlining, then dive right back in. In the meantime, this is something I needed to learn, and I’m glad it came when it did (as opposed to, say, after releasing the first stories in this project). It’s a lot easier to fix the foundation if you haven’t built the tower already.