There are definitely some downsides of being a pantser. My first shot at stories are usually an unorganized mess. Sometimes my characters walk all over me because they decide they’d rather take a different path than I picked, leaving me to pick up the shattered plot they leave behind. Sometimes things just don’t work and I have to start over (usually in a fresh document so I can clear my mind).
But one of the things I love about writing this way is the moment the story hits its stride.
On Friday afternoon, a part of Novel #2 in my fantasy series, The Carrick Letters, hit that moment.
That’s not to say it’s finished. Not by any means. The “second draft” (which is really the seventh attempt to complete the second draft) is still building towards the climax and the protagonist has no idea just how enormous the situation is about to become. But one of the key storytelling elements has finally found its place, and I can feel it.
You see, so far each of these novels has two major layers: one is the main story and the other is an opportunity to reveal the legends and history of Carrick, the world that I’ve poured most of my life into building. This mixture of current events and history was never intentional. It emerged in Novel #1 many drafts ago because the narrator needed it. In Novel #2, it just happened because sometimes history really does repeat itself. And while Novel #3 is no more than a first draft (thanks to last NaNoWriMo), it shows signs of following the same path. I think that is just the nature of these stories.
But back to Novel #2, this second layer has been revealed all at once since the first attempt at this story in high school. (Yes, the version with the unicorns. The evil unicorns. That’s definitely one way not to tell this story.) An old legend sits in the library, and the protagonist reads it before finding herself on the mysterious island supposedly mentioned in the legend… where the same events unfold around her.
But Friday changed everything.
For the first time, I wondered what would happen if the legend was found among the newly discovered ruins of the ancient city that once thrived on the island. And what would happen if, as the protagonist read this old manuscript, she watched the same sorts of events unfold around her. And I imagined her reaction as she learned what ultimately happened to the inhabitants of that ancient city and what will happen to her if she doesn’t find a way to fix the situation.
Finally, the tension I needed to drag this story out of the second draft blues and take it to the next level. The right level.
That’s one of the things I love about writing. Trying out different possibilities and then finding that right one for this story. It always makes me think of Thomas Edison’s famous quote: “We now know a thousand ways not to build a light bulb.” There are so many different ways to tell every story. All we have to do is figure out which one suits this story best and have fun experimenting in between.
Do you have that moment when a story feels like it “hits its stride”? What writing breakthroughs have you had lately?