There’s a story that I’ve been working on for quite a while now. I had the idea for it when I was fifteen, actually, and finished a (ridiculously long and convoluted) first draft when I was seventeen. I then put it aside for a while, because I decided that I hated it, and I couldn’t handle taking a scalpel to it. In the interim, my thoughts on it have gone through numerous shifts. I’ve removed characters, I’ve added characters. I’ve changed the geography of the reality the characters operate in. It’s fantasy, so I’ve changed the laws of physics. Ideologies have been born and died. Centuries of history have been written and rewritten. It’s been a long time since it was the story that it once was.
There are three characters that have held on through all of these changes. And I realized the other day, as I was picking up this story again, that part of the trouble I had with starting this story again was that each of these characters had survived so many rewrites and alterations that I couldn’t quite remember what version of them I was working with. I had too much history with them, too many arcs and details that weren’t relevant anymore but were still in my head and noted down places. That part of the trouble that I was having starting up this story again was that I had several versions of these characters in my head, laid atop one another like tracing paper, and that I wasn’t sure who they were anymore.
So I had to do something that I hadn’t done in a while in any dedicated way with these characters. I had to sit and nail down, once again, who exactly these people were. I had to decide what in their history was going to stay in their history, and what had to go, and what those changes made them.
There’s some author who said that a good writer has a finite number of characters in them. That a great writer has … let’s say six. That all the characters in that writers oeuvre are just iterations of those basic character types. The same person, but with different likes and dislikes, different features, but the same manner, the same basic personality, the same structure. Maybe these characters have held in their because I’m not a great writer, and I only have three characters in me. Which is fine. I can do plenty with three characters. But I was just thinking about my favourite writers, especially those with large bodies of work, and I was considering their protagonists, and it occurred to me that a lot of those protagonists feel like one another. Not that they are especially alike in terms of interests or even the reality that they exist within or their position within it, but that they feel alike.
I had an epiphany about the structure of the story today, one of those moments where everything clicks together and makes sense, when all the bits and pieces seem to be in harmony. And a big part of that was going back and revisiting these characters that I had known for year but that I hadn’t … had a talk with in a while.
I don’t believe in writer’s block, but I do believe that you can get stuck, muddled on a part of a story, just like you can get in a rut with any job, and that sometimes finding the solution can seem impossible. Maybe because writers are so invested and labour so long in solitude over their work that we become attached to the idea that we have some monopoly on getting stuck on a problem. There’s such an emotional investment. I was miserable last week, because I had hit this roadblock and couldn’t see around it. I ultimately had to pick a different direction to come at the problem, and that was difficult because it meant going through a lot of old ideas, some that I really liked, and rejecting some of them. Putting them permanently aside. But I did it, and I feel pretty awesome now.
Though I’ll probably be attacked by doubt about the decisions I’ve made sometime in the next few days. But I guess that’s just … you know, being human.
That’s it. That’s all I’ve got for you today. How are you? Any epiphanies?