There’s usually a point in a project where I stumble over it’s identity. Not a theme or a plot or a character conflict, but a moment where I can suddenly look at the piece and realise why I’m writing. Sometimes it’s easy – Horn got defined as as the book about unicorns for people who hate books about unicorns right from the very beginning, before I even came up with the characters. Most of the time it isn’t, and it takes a good deal of noodling around before I have moment of realisation and everything falls into place. The noodling is actually kind of painful and aimless, because even if I’ve got a plot in mind and the story is travelling okay, it always feels a bit listless without getting to know the reason for the book.
Cold Cases spent a really long time without that sense of identity. That thing that makes it a specific book I want to write, rather than just a thing I’m writing. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – I’ve completed short stories without ever having that moment, and people seemed to like them regardless – but it slows things down a lot.
Then, at some point during the Friday write-club, I wrote a scene and went “oh, that’s what this book is about.” And in the days that followed I went from having 10% of a finished draft to about 60%. Because it’s so much easier to write a book once you know it’s identity, if only because it tells you how to make narrative choices that work.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the weekend, because originally I thought it was going to be easy to write a follow-up to horn. Claw was going to be the talking cat book for people who hate talking cats, only identity is rarely that easy and it quickly became apparent that I wasn’t really excited about rehashing the identity of Horn with a different trope. I wanted to work in the world again, and use the characters, and I still wanted to have a talking cat in there somewhere, but it needed to have its own thing. The thing that made me want to write it, even if it didn’t get published, because it had it’s own reason*.
I’m still not sure I can articulate it properly, since the closest summary I’ve got is the book where I torture Miriam Aster with the possibility of happiness and that’s really just a summary of every conflict, everywhere, but it’s somewhere in that ballpark.
And at this point the draft is 60% done and I’m happy enough with what’s happening that I can finally stop freaking out about the fact that it’s got a deadline 🙂
*This is not always about the story as a whole. On the Destruction of Copenhagen by the War Machines of the Merfolk exists in my head as “the story where I make fun of the little mermaid statue.” For some reason I tend to hinge an books identity on one or two scenes, then everything else tends to grow around it and justify the scenes existence.