Finish the Work

I like planning a story. Drawing maps, designing costumes, sketching character profiles. At my most extra, I will make touchstone objects for a story; a character’s favorite sweater, a pair of goggles with wire mesh lenses, a tee shirt stamped with a swarm of bats. At this stage, before everything coalesces, it is easy to play with a story’s design. The beats aren’t cemented in place, the thing is nebulous and sparkling. It’s easy to love a dream.

The writing is harder. First drafts are especially difficult, because I am forced to confront all the spaces the dream washes out. How does character get from knowing their antagonist to hating them? How does their sidekick go from annoyed acquaintance to best friend? Outlines will provide some structure, but there are places in the story that I won’t know about until we get there.

There are places in the story where I will have to hang a curtain between this world and the one I am writing, and ask that you not look behind that curtain. There are some things I can’t import into the story’s world. Many more things that I wish to exclude. As much as I am writing a world, one woman can’t be an entire universe.

I can only masquerade as one.

When I begin to pin down my story in a first draft, it loses its depths. It looks as thin as that curtain, and I worry it will tear at its first reading. My big nebulous shining thing, with all its maps and props, looks very little like the thing I wrote.

But notes and props and maps are very boring without a story to go along with them. And I can’t edit what isn’t written.

Because the trick to story telling isn’t in the props. Depth comes later, when I have a first draft, and I can tease its structure into three dimensions. I need to finish the work, and then its time to share.

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I’ve listened to some really great stories lately. Keyan Bowes wrote a beautiful love story about research funding and the intelligence of octopuses. You can listen to Octonet on Escape Pod.

And I am Fire, I am Tears by Wendy Nikel is on Podcastle. It’s got cursed sisters and dragons and untrustworthy husbands. It felt like a lost fairy tale, a favorite one, that had just been rediscovered.

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