Having a dozen or so characters hollering over each other at the top of their lungs, can, believe or not (of course you believe me!), be a wee bit disconcerting.
Not to mention confusing, perplexing, irritating, and noisy.
There are main characters voicing their own opinions on how their story should go, would-be lovers screeching that they don’t belong together, evil doers shouting at the awful plans I make them complete, and drunk soldiers (who happen to be brothers) trying to hit on me.
Loving and knowing them while maintaining sanity is the easy part.
Turning their life into a story is something entirely different.
Basically, after I wrote my first draft and let it sit for a couple months I demolished the whole thing. Rented a bulldozer, destroyed it, then set the ruins on the fire and scattered the ashes into the gaping opening of an active volcano. I’m waiting for it to erupt any day now so I can sweep up those ashes and dispose of them in an underwater cave, which I will then blow up with dynamite.
I can’t start rebuilding right away. Planning, measurements, and permits are needed before construction can begin. Instead, I’m planning on the interior decorating, the types of flowers that will sit in the flower vases on the coffee table in my library. You can’t build a house that way, and you certainly shouldn’t be trying to write a book that way.
It’s good to have an image in your head of what the details are going to be, but focus on the overall structure and safety first.
So I need to stop focusing on the personal lives of my characters, step back, and look at the bigger picture. It doesn’t matter if it’s gorgeously painted and adorned on the inside if the outside is a crooked, leaky, lopsided mess.
Setting aside the decorating utensils is hard, but finding the bigger purpose requires more immediate attention. Make sure the walls are straight and the angles square.
At times like this it’s good to have a second brain. Or even a third one. Odds are that someone — a relative or friend — is reading the nasty, raw, unedited gibberish that your fingers are hammering out. They are the unfortunate beta testers that dominate your physical world (the non-physical one being dominated by dragons, sorcerers, and such).
You must pick their brain. Ask opinions, point out your own weaknesses, and wonder aloud how they might be fixable. It helps if they’re an aspiring writer as well as reader. Just rambling on about plot and character relationships might assist in de-tangling of tangled thoughts, and the other person can jump in with a “What if…” or “It would be cool if…”
Ifs are your friend. Ifs make the day brighter, the night less hazy, the marshes less boggy.
I’m fortunate enough to have two extra brains to pick, to muse with. I recently spent the majority of a day with one of my beta readers, swapping ideas and wonderments about the other’s work-in-progress. It was insightful, productive, and I can now set aside the cloth I had been saving for curtain colour-choosing.
My two beta readers are very different. One is an avid fantasy-reader, dreamer, writer, and tree-lover. Like me. When we brainstorm together everything seems more fantastical, and my story, which began more of a historical fiction rather than fantasy, takes a lean towards the magical side of life.
Bubbly now that I have a loose purpose, I confront the my other beta reader with the developments to the plot. She reads fantasy, but it’s not her favourite genre, and she is stubbornly hoping that I can rebuild with the remnants of that blown-up underwater cave. She disagrees with the new structure but acknowledges her bias and ascents that it is, after all, my story.
So I take both readers’ offerings into account, with my own preference (of course) within clear sight. Essentially I’m writing this story for me and no one else, but I love hearing feedback from my b-readers, I love debating with them on aspects of this world, the needs and wants of the population, the secret motives of characters, and the overall flavour of the story.
The foundation has been re-laid, and construction can finally begin.