Kage Baker could write really fast and for hours on end. I can too, on this blog – but I am basically talking to myself, at which I was already adept. So far, it takes a deal more effort to proceed on the sequel to Nell Gwynne. I am still learning Kage’s craft. And I am still at the “Look, a squirrel!” stage.
But I can now see the shape of the end.
I have, of course, always known the ending, from the notes and discussions with Kage. That is, I know who wins, who loses, who acquires a treasure, who loses a job, who sails to Australia, whatever … which information could accurately be disseminated in a tidy list with absolutely no audience appeal at all. I’ve read endings to a lot of books, in fact, where that is essentially what happens – it irritates the hell out of me, and I would never subject a reader to it. Even if you do it well, you can overlook something vital, the absence of which is only exaggerated by the encyclopedic inclusion of every other thing in your world. Even the venerable J.R.R. Tolkien, while giving us the tragic details of Arwen’s eventual marital problems, forgot to mention what the heck happened to the entwives.
But the alternative is to create a step-by-step (by ad-infinitum-step …) narrative to get to the end. I know, that seems fairly obvious – it’s sort of the definition of a book, isn’t it? But a lot of wonderful ideas start off with a fascinating cast and some killer scenes, and no end in mind. This, as a surprising number of writers discover about 25,000 words in, is what is technically known as a Big Freaking Mistake.
You need to give the audience a road; that’s what you promise on page one. You need to carefully escort the reader to that magic moment: where the tapestry and antique boar-spear dirigible – cunningly constructed by the heroine as the hero fights off the evil minions of an ancient, inexplicable and hitherto unsuspected water empire in rural Britain – rises triumphantly above the fens of Dover, and heads off into the falling night over Europe, hero and heroine (at least) entwined in amatory bliss in the cockpit …
Even if you change the fonts, as it were, you still need to traverse B to get between A and C. And if you are headed out as far as Q or V, you’re gonna need that much more traversion. And this is the hard part, it really is. It’s relatively easy to come up with the big plot points, but filling in the picky details – people standing up, talking, making plans, walking the dog, turning left or right – is hard. Sometimes it’s Barbie-hard.
But I am getting there. More and more, the amorphous gaps of rosy cloud are filling in with pictures and (even better) words. More of the equation is actual numbers, and there is less and less of that dreaded parenthetical panacea: And here a miracle happens …
We all hope for miracles, of course. And there may be a few. But not in place of the actual plot. I promise.
Tomorrow: I WILL get to Britain, and Kage’s turn as Mother Shipton