I took yesterday off as planned. Got my extra sleep, got my errands run, took the time to make myself some delicious healthier food (hotdogs are super easy to make in a toaster oven and they taste alright if you buy the good ones, but they’re not exactly a good meal to eat four out of seven days a week), and then sat down to write around one in the afternoon. Twelve hours later, I’d written a few hundred words, play Destiny for a couple of hours, and finished reading the entirety of “To Green Angle Tower.”
I want to just say “whoops” and laugh it off, because that would be easy and I’m already stressed enough knowing I’ve got 15 days to write 39,000 words, but that would be a disservice to myself and the book I read. One day, once NaNoWriMo has ended and I’m trying to keep the daily updates to my blog going, I’ll write a full review of the book and then probably a reflection on it. Heck, I’ll probably do the entire “Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn” series. There’s so much to unpack and talk about in the series!
Anyway, I honestly don’t regret taking the entire day off to finish reading this book. While I had planned to write and I do also wish I had spent more time writing, this reading break came when I really needed it. That last book I’d finished, aside from a couple of comics here and there, was John Green’s “Turtles All the Way Down” and that, being a highly emotional read for me, had been skewing my perspective. It had me very focused on the things my own story would say and how that it might be read by people. Finishing “To Green Angle Tower” was an excellent reminder that what a book says relies so heavily on the reader that the writer can only tell a story and see what comes out at the end if they want it to be any good. Every so often, I remember a famous book that I strongly dislike because it was written to make a point about something specific. It’s the literary equivalent of a guard standing outside a town in a Super Nintendo game: it has only one thing to say and will mindless repeat it every time you try to engage it.
I don’t want to write a story like that. While I wasn’t so far gone that I had already scripted the story’s message, I’d invested too much into what it was “supposed to” say that it was making it hard for me to write. Today’s writing is going to focus on stepping back from that ledge and getting back to figuring out the story I want to tell. I’ve already done a lot of productive thinking about it while I was staring at my ceiling, waiting for the roiling emotions stirred by the end of a beloved book to calm enough for me to sleep. I think I know what I’m doing, now. I can’t wait to get back to work!
Sometimes, the most important details can be the ones we don’t know. We see it often in fantasy novels, in stories using the “hero from humble origins” trope. A low-born young woman or man rises up to overthrow the cruel king or lord, stumbling from failure to success as they grow from a child into an adult. They learn wisdom, gain strength, and ultimately triumph, seeking no reward for their efforts but the chance to return to the peaceful life they once knew. Then, as the story wraps up, they learn of some hidden nobility or royal blood in their family tree and are called upon to take the place of the leader they overthrew. The clever part of this that we see in good stories is when the author hints at their background, foreshadowing the moment when they would rise to power. For today’s prompt, write about something similar for your character. Show a the moment that the learn the truth about their hidden past and come up with a few ways to hint about that you could insert into an earlier part of the story.
Today’s inspiration is “To Green Angle Tower” by Tad Williams and will be the source of a lot of future quotes and references. I cannot count the number of times I stopped reading, went back, and reread a passage because I enjoyed it so much. The characters, some of whom still felt remote and unknowable through the middle of the book, had become alive and real by the time I reached the appendix. If you want to read a good high fantasy book that is incredibly clever with its references and inspirations, I cannot recommend the “Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn” trilogy emphatically enough. I suggest getting the recent reprints because I love tall books, even if they’re a bit harder to shelve. Not having to read a couple thousand pages of tiny text will be super helpful.
If you are feeling particularly stuck at a scene that just refuses to move along, there are a lot of ways you can make progress happen. The easiest would be to kill someone. Nothing progresses a story and gets characters moving like a nice injection of death. If you’re looking for something with a lower impact, have a character lose something. It can be a possession, a companion, a source of comfort, or even a limb. If you’re still trying to build things and not yet ready to start taking them away, introduce someone or something. Adding a new character or location can refresh the existing dynamic between your characters, giving them a nudge to start progressing toward their goals again. Adding things or removing them is easily the fastest way to get a story progressing again, so don’t be afraid to make liberal use of your power to move things on or off stage as you’re setting the scene.