Look Upon My Works and Despair

It’s been a busy month here in the Gravelands. Finishing “Corpses and Cognac,” planning what I’m going to write afterwards, starting a new job, preparing for the holidays, and somehow finding time to be social all in there. It’s a lot to juggle, but it comes with a feeling of progress, the knowledge that this is the way things are supposed to be going. The outline of life falls into place.

The outline for “Corpses and Cognac,” on the other hand…well, let’s just say we’ve reached that stage of the draft where you question everything. I’m doing my best to set those doubts aside, get the book done, and leave all major edits for Draft 3. Doing a complete rewrite for Draft 2 has fixed most of the problems I was having with the book, but a complete rewrite does come with the price of introducing its own problems. Especially when the first draft took 2-3 years to write, and Draft 2 is almost complete at about 6 months or work—about the time it took me to write the space-fantasy novella. That’s pretty good time for me, even if it doesn’t feel that way!

What I want to talk about today is something I’ve been struggling with in this draft—and every draft of every story I ever write. It’s figuring out how much of the logic and mechanics of the world I explain to the readers.

Yes, it’s important to create the rules of one’s universe. To know how things are supposed to work, and the fallout of what happens when a wrench is thrown into those inner workings; as I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, consistent internal logic is key to keeping the plotholes away. I also talk a lot about building the details for one’s world, and that falls in here too. I’ve got documents and charts detailing how Arcadia functions and its connection to our world and “Moonworld” in the Deadly Drinks series, faux-scientific notes on magic and culture overviews for other series. I can even say I’m proud of these ideas. They’re unique, and once some of the facets are realized, the implications it casts on some of the characters are…well, in typical me fashion, rather wicked. Mwahaha.

That’s where the balance comes in. What I may think of as evil genius, a reader may find dull or confusing. What I would cast as a revelation in the plot may actually distance others with all the talk of theories. And even if I find a fascinating, exciting way to pull back the curtain and reveal the inner machinations of my work…what do I sacrifice by removing that sense of mystery?

We’ve all seen it in stories, where we suddenly break from the plot for a lecture on the rules of magic or how a strange monster can be entirely explained by science, or even just a whole chapter on the history of Special Noble Family we’re never going to see again. Heck, it’s the trap many prequels fall into, trying to explain how the world-state of the original came to be instead of letting the viewers’ minds wander. (Solo, you were fun, but why? Fantastic Beasts…just, why?!?) People like to poke holes at mysteries. It’s the fuel for numerous head-canons and fanfics, and it allows everyone to cast their own lens on a story. Not that everything should be done for sake of fandom, but sometimes, it’s the mystery more than the reveal that leaves people thinking afterwards, like those twist endings that imply a fate but never confirm it.

I’m sitting at my laptop, staring at one scene in particular. It’s a big reveal conversation at a diner, metaphorical action placed in the food and movements of cutlery like all those literary short stories that get paraded around in English classes. There are fun metaphors involving barracudas too, because I can’t let things get too drab and droll. It reveals a key facet about the universe, one that changes how the protagonists interact with a certain group they’ll continue to encounter throughout the series.

I’m torn between throwing it at my beta-reader and sobbing “How do I make this work?!” and just taking a blowtorch to the entire conversation. It’s a big reveal. It changes a lot of dynamics. There are also a lot of nitty-gritty particulars. But is it right?

If worse comes to worse, we’ll see where Draft 2 leaves me once I’m finished. Then I can look back and determine if the reveal strengthens the story, or leaves it weak under the pressure of me heaping my ideas onto it and shouting “But isn’t this COOL?!” into the wind. Maybe it’s the doubt talking.

Or maybe, dear readers, I’m longing to hold onto mysteries too.

~Dorian