Some writerly feats cannot be taken with a leap of faith.

Mary Doria Russell recently described a process in which she laid printed sections of an in-progress work on her dining table as a way of understanding what fit, what didn’t, and where the fix might be found. That need to externalize is something this writer understands well.  It’s exactly what I’m dealing with now.

As well, as lovingly, as carefully as one might carry a character, a plot, a direction in one’s head, one is, essentially, drawing portraits in the dark. When two wildly different approaches vie for supremacy in writerhead, only print (whether on-screen or in hard copy) will prove the hypotheses.

Recent problems with recent chapters demonstrated the example in the theory. What I saw—rightly or wrongly—as flat, overly talky, told-not-shown, demanded a remedy that verged on the Draconian. Rip it out. Sacrifice a few cherished babies. Find the diamonds in the dross and look for more impactful places for them to live.

This is the point of the book, 100 pages in, where the book’s pivotal understanding is revealed. It took us long enough to get here…and the moment must shout, not murmur. Thirty-six hours ago, I came upon a revelation that could change the tenor of the story; a turn so fantastical, so outlandish, that it will floodlight the tale in an entirely different way. Very very risky business, this.

This “oh my” moment changes everything. The play of emotions, the deeper symbolic meaning of the main character’s strange ability, becomes something entirely other if the change is made. I write to examine the human-ness in extra-human situations, a kind of hyper-reality. Even so, the change I’m considering could well send the story’s greater meaning wandering off into the wild in such a way that the story might lose itself forever.

Can the writer pull it off? Probably. Should she? That’s where the physical exercise of through-writing the idea comes in. Outline alone might not do it. Perhaps only the unfurling of ideas in a seeable form can show us the truth in the theory.

Einstein carried the ideas in his head. But writing them down birthed them for the world. For those of us in a decidedly less exalted place, as writers for readers, it’s the least we can do.

 

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