I started this post in June, but set it aside as part of the writing break I described in my last post. The title comes from three words I wrote as they came to me. Behind my office desk, I might refer to them as ‘guiding principles’ or ‘fundamental values’. But we’re talking about writing today, so no stuffy corporate phrases allowed!
Here’s what they really are. They are the heart of Tildy’s character, and therefore, the heart of her story. Of all the words in the English language that I could use to describe her, these three are all I need. Everything I have written so far – and everything I will write – needs to convey this or I haven’t adequately transported the reader.
The amount of thought writers put into their works might surprise people. Using a scientific measuring tool known as ‘my gut’, I’d estimate nearly half of my time is spent thinking about the story. Yeah, it’s not all butt-in-chair, typing away like a half-crazed hermit. Whether I’m walking in to work, driving, or waiting in line for coffee, I’m thinking about where the story is going. What happens beyond the first book? Am I doing my female protagonist justice? Is it marketable? There are myriad questions, and if a writer isn’t focused, it’s easy to deviate the story too far from your original intent.
As I was considering the length of the book, and as I’m editing the last few chapters, I’m thinking back to the focus of the story. Not the plot or the development of secondary characters and scenes. No. I’m wondering whether I’ve stayed true to Tildy’s nature. She’s a girl who’s lived a semi-secluded life under the watch of an overprotective adoptive mother. The story in the first book follows her as she discovers new parts of the world. With wonder in her eyes, she’s interacting with new peoples, creatures, and places, and she’s delighted by it all. She’s going to make the most of her adventure and test the bounds of her freedom, for which there are consequences, both good and ill.
Now, I’ve just written that last paragraph to incorporate my three words, but it also captures my intent of the first book. Until that day last summer, I’d never put these words into, uh, words before. But their definitions, both denotations and connotations, have been guiding me from the beginning. There’s a kind of free spirit to them, and I want to personify that in Tildy.
Additionally, I want to ensure I never lose sight of this. When you’re working with dragons, trolls, and fairies, not to mention other fantastic beasts, it’s easy to get caught up in the telling. I imagine many writers lose their focus in this way.
Call it your ‘guiding principles’ or your ‘compass north’ – the label doesn’t matter. To me, they are promises to the reader, and I must be true to them if I am to be true to the character.
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© Michael Wallevand, October 2018
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