Knowing What Lies Ahead: Charting A Story’s Course
A question I sometimes get asked is whether I always know what lies ahead for each of my characters. The answer in the best tradition of Tolkien’s elves, is both yes, and no. Or in more Kiwi parlance, “Yeah, nah.”
The “yes” response is that sometimes I do know, absolutely, what lies ahead for a characters. On the “no” hand, however, there are cases where (in exactly the same way prophecy works in The Wall Of Night books), there may be many, or at least several potential paths for a character, depending on the way the story evolves.
I think of the story arc as being like a journey with its beginning and final destination clearly marked, and with several equally clear way stations along the route – but the best path between them can sometimes be extremely hard to find.
So for example, I had always envisaged two of the charcaters in Daughter of Blood falling in love – but they absolutely refused to do so: there was just no chemistry between them, no matter how I wrote and rewrote their scenes. All of which was something of an authorial downer, as I am sure you can imagine! 😉
Yet in the end, as soon as I accepted that the romance was not going to happen, I realised that what was happening instead was a much better outcome for the story. As the great Ursula Le Guin has said, “…the story boat is a magic one. It knows its course. The job of the person at the helm is to help it to find its own way to wherever it’s going.”
I just had to learn to listen to the story, and/or the muses, so I could chart the right course for the book.