In interviews and at readings, I have often talked about how weird and interesting it is to write really long stories. This time may be the weirdest and most interesting yet.
In the course of getting into the three long and two short novels of what will (probably) comprise all of this new story of Osten Ard, I’ve probably had the most time I’ve ever had to contemplate details of backstory and worldbuilding. I thought about the new storyline for much of a year before I started, while I finished other books, re-reading the old books and my ancient notes — did you know Binabik was originally named “Bilabil”, and that Simon was orginally a “Martin”? I did, but I’d forgotten. Anyway, I put in a lot of work getting up to speed on Osten Ard again and adding to its history, which already had years of work put into it.
Also, as I mentioned, I had a year to figure out the story before I finalized the outline. (I hate writing outlines. Hate it, hate it, hate it. But I’ll explain all that in another message someday soon.) So all signs should point to a story that was about as firmly set as a story can be, right?
Of course it didn’t work that way. It never works that way. At the moment I’m writing the third of five books, the middle book of the main trilogy, and things are still sliding and changing in front of me like overstimulated snakes. Not necessarily the biggest stuff of the story — I still have a pretty good idea how it’s all going to end — but the journeys and backstories of individual characters are wobbly as a drunk trying to walk a line for the cops on New Year’s Eve.
Part of that is just that as a writer works on a long story, his or her needs shift with the new plot wrinkles. Part of it is because characters tend to grow while stories are being written, asserting their own idiosyncrasies that often undercut the likelihood or even the possibility of them doing something you’d planned for them to do — often something important for the plot. The bigger the story, the more that these things happen.
But there’s an even larger reason, a mysterious but fascinating one (at least to me) that eclipses the others and makes long books fun to write (and frustrating) in a way that shorter works do not. Some call it The Muse, some call it the subconscious, I just call it my writing brain, and here’s what it does:
Often I get to places in my story where I’m not exactly sure what something signifies. This could be because it’s new to the storyline or because it’s part of some larger resolution later on that I haven’t worked out yet.
Because I’m a control freak by nature, you’d think I would be very worried about this — having a big hole in my ideas right in the spot where I’m committing myself to something, often to something that will actually be published before I finally work out what it really means.
Instead, I’ve found over the years that if I simply have faith in the story itself, and don’t give out any information that I’m not ready to commit to, I can leave something unsolved and trust to my subconscious or my muse (or the We’ll Write Your Story mail service I subscribe to) to let me know how it all fits together at some later point. And virtually without exception, the solutions are always better when they come than anything I could have done at the time. Not just that, but they often solve several issues forward and backward, snapping into place like the last pop bead that brings two ends together and makes a circular necklace out of what would otherwise be a pointless string of plastic beads.
I don’t know why this works. I know it works for some other writers, but not all. Some haven’t trusted it on anything as broad as the myriad of characters and giant swathes of story I’ve left to sort themselves out, especially not if they’re the architectural sort of writer I am. And I’m not suggesting it doesn’t require any work to make these things fit in and do their job. But these delayed, intuitive decisions are always a lot more satisfying than anything I could have come up with at the original moment.
This is particularly important because I’m not just connecting all the dots of a single huge story this time, but connecting all those dots to a previous huge story as well, one that a lot of people already know and care about. It’s hard to trust sometimes when there are deadlines and reader’s expectations on the line. But so far, it’s working again, even in the newer and more complex circumstances of “The Last King of Osten Ard”.
Whether it’s my muse or my own mortal musings that allow me to do this, all I can say is, “Thank you, universe”.
From my household to yours, the best of wishes for the turning of the year.
And love from Tad.
Note from Deborah: We’re less than a week from publication, US and UK territories, for ‘The Heart of What Was Lost’. I truly hope you enjoy it, and see what I see, which is that it’s one from the heart (as well as see all the things you see, of course).
We’ve just heard that publication of ‘The Witchwood Crown’ has been delayed two months to June. We’re not entirely clear on all the details. Partly it’s this: it’s a big book, the copy-editing was complex and took a gargantuan amount of time, and other aspects of the book’s production were affected too; and partly it’s because sales and marketing want more time to more effectively sell the book. We don’t know anything more than that at the moment, but will tweet or facebook when we do.