As a beginning writer it can be disheartening when your plans resemble a torrent of tatters — and more distressing when others cannot see the tumult and mud you must march through each day to seek out your novel’s completion. It is tempting to believe that somewhere there exists a magical formula, and that if you replicate it step by meticulous step you will be the proud owner of a completed manuscript full of the choicest ingredients. But readers are as varied as writers. There are as many differing tastes as there are varying ways of writing. Therefore I do not believe in a unifying formula.
I would dearly wish to relay my experiences so far with a degree of certainty that I am approaching things in the best way — that I have scaled the mountain ridge thus far fully equipped and informed. But I am uncertain there is a right way. I have written of this many times — principally to help reconcile my own doubts — there are no right or wrong ways, just your preferred way. You must travel in the act of writing as you feel right and true.
Yes, there are elements to be aware of: crafting that sublime first sentence that mesmerises and entices the reader to descend the burrow, scenes that cast golden threads they cannot help but pull and follow, dialogue that must serve many purposes while seemingly purporting none. These are common ingredients, but which you choose, and how you combine them — and to what degree — is a different matter. Know your ingredients, but never be afraid to experiment and craft your own formulas.
What I am more concerned about here is the entire process, of how a single speck flourishes and blooms into an entire world. Some writers research meticulously, blueprinting before a single brick is laid upon another; others construct biographies, they map out birth marks and traumas, they know the favourite colour of underwear before their characters have breathed their first word on paper. Then there are others, who have done as I have, and strove ahead, headstrong, mapping an unfamiliar, and often alarming world — like seekers in a dark domain — with wonderment and apprehension. We have no substantive information about the universe, or what dangers lurk within the cities and woods. But we continue and we chart our map in words because we feel it is right and true.
My world was born of a single element, a simple premise I wrote down four months ago: ‘A stranger comes into a close-knit community and things start to fall apart’. I knew nothing else. I drew mind maps, I obsessed about the idea, I took notes, I introduced myself to the characters. But most importantly I let go and started writing. I cast off expectation as an adventurer discards baggage that will weigh him down.
In a strange land you must make concessions, sometimes you will become lost, paths may double-back, friends may become enemies. But as Frodo navigated Middle Earth in trepidation among peril, you march across snowy peaks and verdant valleys of words because you have to; to cast the prize back into the fire and restore order so you may sleep again. My original premise has changed — as ideas tend to do. A single idea branched off like rivulets — some flowing, others arid — weaving and interweaving across the land. I followed them. My journey took 80,000 words. I have found some semblance of order. But now I must undertake the journey again.
However, it will be easier this time. My first draft is my map. I have already marked out the danger spots, when I close my eyes sometimes I still see places of beauty I look forward to revisiting. And I now realise my full purpose within this world, and of those I must aid further in their own respective quests. We are the builders, healers, rulers, and cartographers of these worlds we create.
Earlier I mentioned that some writers research fully before embarkation. I am doing the bulk of mine now. It’s what I feel is right and true for me. In The Myth of Sisyphus, French novelist and philosopher Albert Camus introduces the following dilemma:
‘There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest — whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories — comes afterwards.’
In a modern world where reason is often ineffectual, truth elusive, and religion unable to offer the answers as it once did, in a world where absurdity lurks on street corners, or with a touch of a hand seeks to infect our understanding of the universe we feel abandoned in, what, asks Camus, are the philosophical reasons for continuing the struggle? It’s a question that haunts my characters. It’s my duty now to find them some answers.
Image by: João Silas via Unsplash