I mentioned in passing that I'm currently redrafting The Prophet's Key (sequel to The Prophet's Quest). What I didn't say is that this novel is being a petulant little child.
I'm over twenty thousand words in, and something doesn't feel right. That's one of the worst feelings as a writer--that uneasy sense that something is wrong. It's when your spidey sense, which grows more and more accurate the more you write, tells you that something isn't working, and then you need to figure out what that something is so you can fix it ASAP.
This dull alarm is even worse when it comes for a story that's very near and dear to your heart. Journeys of the Chosen is a big project for me. It's important. I've invested a lot into it. So I want to be 'in the zone,' as it were. I want to be head over heels in love with this book I'm writing. That's what drafting is for! (And then I'll fall out of love during editing, only to fall back in again. It's how the cycle goes.)
So on Sunday, after lazing around and devouring half a novel (I can't remember the last time I read so much in one sitting--it was glorious, folks), I decided to take a walk to stir up my creative juices so I could make use of some writing time. And, let's be honest, I was falling asleep on the couch, so some physical exercise was a good idea.
Walking is a great time to contemplate things, specifically writing things. Marching along, hands stuffed in my sweater pockets and hair tossing in a brisk wind, I stewed. What's the problem? I asked myself. Why haven't I clicked with TPK yet? I ordered my wandering thoughts into a list.
- Is it drafting doldrums? Drafting can be massively fun--in fact, it often is for me--but I know I usually go through bouts of wishing everything was already on paper so I could just fix and fiddle. So am I struggling to manufacture new words?
- Is it prolonged editoritis? When I transition between editing obsessively (*cough* The Brightest Thread *cough*) and creating something new, it usually takes a bit for my left brain to settle down and shut up enough for my right brain to freely and messily explore things. But if I'm 20k in, I shouldn't still be feeling like this.
- Is it because chunks of my plot are shaky and not yet researched? There's some stuff I haven't mapped out yet, and some of it is potentially tricky. Writing oneself into a plot wormhole is never a pleasant feeling.
- Or . . . is it something else entirely? Maybe I haven't yet connected to the heart of the story. Maybe I haven't hit upon the reason I'm rooting for these characters and this book. Am I in love with the book yet? And if not . . . why?
In Ted Dekker's writing course that I'm slowly going through, The Creative Way, he teaches that in order to write powerful, transformational fiction, you need to take that journey of transformation yourself, along with your characters.
So I asked myself, "What's my journey with this story? Where do my struggles and my characters' struggles intersect?"
I know that once I figure that out, I'll truly, deeply care about TPK.
As I walked, I turned that over in my mind. And I came up with some good stuff that resonates with me. One intersection of author/character struggles I thought about was that of homesickness. The paradoxical kind you can get even when you're under your own roof. The longing for times past--good times, safe times--coupled with the bittersweet resignation towards an uncertain future. I've experienced that, and it's something my characters are going through in an even worse way. So in their journey through that homesickness, I need to take my own journey. Work through my own struggles.
I thought, "Let's delve into that, Tracey. Make it poignant and palpable on the page. Grip the readers with that aching, that yearning. Make Aileen and Josiah hurt in their individual ways, so much that I feel the pain and the readers feel the pain."
One criticism book 1 received from my editor was that I raised good challenges, only to let them fall away without much effort. I see myself doing the same thing now with book 2. Am I afraid of the pain?
I so badly want my protagonists to succeed because I so badly want to succeed in life. So is this too-easy conflict resolution my way of trying to make my own problems fall away with little effort? I'm scared of those dark moments when I have nothing but blind trust to lean on, and so I avoid putting my characters into those moments. Or rather, I put them there, but I don't let them stay for long.
It comes down to trust. I have trouble trusting that God will come through in my valleys. But I need to live bravely. And like my dear friend Christine recently said, we need to write bravely too.
This, then, is my journey. A journey of trust, of faith in the blackest darkness and of clinging to hope when all other handholds are washed away.
I must make my characters suffer. Chip away at their resolve bit by bit until they fall into a deep valley from which they see no way out.
Make their lives a living hell, so to speak (progressively worse in each book as I raise the stakes and whatnot), in order to discover alongside them how to trust the King and believe He's still there and still in the business of rescuing lost hearts. This is my journey just as much as it is theirs. When my own heart recognizes the 'valley of the shadow of death' for just that--shadows--and trusts in the light, that transformation will be apparent in the story too. What I bleed onto the page will transform the characters. In turn, it will transform the readers.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have a book to write.