Maybe it was the amount of wordage I produced at work on Thursday and Friday that left my mental space feeling bruised and battered. Maybe it was the summerlike mugginess that left me feeling physically drained. Maybe it was a little bit of both. Or maybe it was something else entirely.
Whatever it was, I figured out the key to “THOD.”
I’d worked out the plot, in broad strokes. It’s not the most detailed outline I’ve ever written, but it hits the major points, the sequence of events. Then I found my narrative distance, my narrative voice.
But what I found on Friday was something else. Something vastly more important. For me, anyway.
I found the last line of the book.
And I found the emotional core of the story, the scene at the heart of the book.
I wrote two weeks ago about some dialogue I wrote out on the subway, a conversation between Freddy and another character that falls near the end of the book. The penultimate chapter, I think. Or possibly the penultimate minus one.
(I know the contents of the final three chapters. It’s the sequencing that I’m not sure about. Obviously, the last is the last. But the two preceeding? Not so sure.)
Short of typing up that page of handwritten dialogue, I’ve done nothing else with it. There was nothing to do, really; I wasn’t that far into the book, obviously.
When musing randomly on the way home the other night, that scene came to the fore of my thoughts.
And I realized how to get from that scene to the final line of the novel.
One thing that has always been clear to me is where the story ends. A specific place, a specific circumstance, a specific character in the final scene.
Now, I know the last line. And the final image of the story.
Which is more than a little scary, as I’m a good eighty, ninety thousand words away from where I am.
It’s written down, anyway.
Now, what’s this nonsense about “the emotional core”?
I don’t know how it is for other writers. For me, I need something in the center, something that glues it all together. It’s like the center of the spider web or the foundation piece in a LEGO model. Once I have that, the pieces start falling into place. And, in some ways, it’s the reason for being.
Sometimes it’s an image, sometimes it’s an entire scene. It may not survive intact to the final form of the story. It might not survive at all.
“Spindle”‘s core, for me, was a scene late in the story where, without going into spoilers, Old High Gallifreyan is spoken. It was written originally far differently than its published form; I had intended that as something akin to a “third episode” cliffhanger, but the way the story was restructured and rewritten it didn’t work that way any longer. But that scene shaped the entire story — before that, the story is (relatively) normal; after that, the story goes places that, logically, it shouldn’t.
“Make-Believe”‘s core no one has read. The scene didn’t fit the story. Or I could never find a way of making it fit. And so, I’m reluctant to even describe it. But it was the scene that, for me, was at the heart of everything in that story.
The core in “THOD” is a little different, because the scale is different. This story is bigger than anything I’ve attempted before, yet it’s a rather intimate scene.
I know now what this scene is. I understand where it goes and what it does.
I wish I were a straightforward writer. But I’m not. I can’t write straight-out. I have to feel my way through my problems, I have to evolve the text, try my approach until it feels right.
Once I find that groove, though, the floodgates are opened. It’s like water, digging a channel through hard rock. Once it finds the canyon, it’s smooth sailing.
I’m getting there. I’m on the cusp. I can feel it.