I can just – just – see the downward slope ahead of me.
So you’ve got to that difficultest of sections: the one between between the introduction and the climax, traditionally known as ‘the story’. You’ve brought your characters into play and given them some life, and now you’ve got to manipulate them into wending whence you will. It’s not always easy: those pesky buggers will slither in any direction other than the one you need, are notoriously lazy and would rather sit and sulk in their rooms than go out and combat evil.
It’s not so bad if you get to this point having drawn up a clear plan, with every scene and stage already sketched out. But you’ll still find that your preconceptions sometimes sit like a yoke around your character’s neck and must be modified. Or the background you’ve painstakingly created has unexpected consequences and new opportunities suddenly open like a cartoon trapdoor beneath you.
For most of us, entering the start of the story proper is akin to emerging from a narrow defile and seeing a great vista open up before you; a wondrous, fertile plain with all manner of magnificent sights and opportunities. Now you have to steer a course between them without repetition, deviation or tearing up the tracks of logic that you’ve been steadily laying.
I don’t know about you, but I usually know roughly how long a books going to be before I start it. There’s a shape to the gilded story-ball that is your idea; you have a vague idea whether you’re dealing with something short or long, or abstract or precise, or multi-layered or linear. This instinctive knowledge tells you roughly where you are when you’re writing: have you reached the Inciting Incident (which traditionally brings the introduction to the end) yet? How about your mid-point crisis? Your quiet-before-the-storm?
This is, I should add, just one way of thinking about the novel, and it’s really not essential to know it all – especially in your first draft. But I’m finding it useful to have these vague mileposts in my mind’s map’s eye as I proceed with Oneiromancer. I’m up around the 50,000 mark, and though that number will change (I have a lot of cutting to do), the sense of where I am in the story is solid. I’m just approaching the central crisis, the crux that divides the novel in two. As it feels like the novel will be fall into the 100-120k zone, this is pretty much bang on target.
I should say that I’ve reached this point almost be accident: by pinning my various balls of yarn up through the introduction and rolling them out aimless into the future. I now find that these leads can be collected, pinned, then cast forwards again towards the end.
Now I’m still looking out at that magnificent vista, that endless plain – only this time I’ve found the geocache tucked away behind some convenient bushes. There’s a machete, binoculars and some field-rations. No map, not at this point – but it now feels like I’m going downhill again. Three fixed points: lots of twists and turns to get there, but I’ve now anchored three fixed points on my path. They will take me to the end.