It has occurred to me this past week that writing fiction is an act of faith. Not being a detailed pre-plotter, I can’t say with absolute certainty that this is true for those who begin composition only after everything has been laid out in exacting detail, but I’d be surprised if it wasn’t. It certainly holds true for ‘discovery writers’ like myself. It is because of this truth that publishers demand completed works rather than ideas and outlines like in the non-fiction industry. It is one thing to begin writing a novel. It is something very different to finish one.
This has never been more evident to me then in my current writing project. If you’ve been following my blog, then you’ll know that I’m working on the third book in the “Memories of the Cataclysm” series. This one follows immediately after the events of my second book, “A Whisper in the Sand” which has a planned release in 2020. You can see a draft jacket description for that book here.
The second and third books are two halves of a ‘travelogue’ that spans great distances unlike the much more localized “Tears from Iron”. This means that “A Whisper in the Sand” carries the protagonist halfway through a journey that concludes in the following book. Yet I want each story to be as complete as possible. Thus while there are overarching plot, character, and theme arcs, each book also holds its own supporting arcs that resolve at their individual conclusions. I am very pleased with how the supporting arcs resolved in “A Whisper in the Sand”, but this is where the challenge arose.
As I began writing the third book (title still pending), I knew the path of the plot. I had about a half dozen major plot points and a host of minor ones to steer me on the journey. The challenge lay with the character arc. The protagonist’s path resolves so completely in “A Whisper in the Sand” that I only had vague ideas for his continuing character journey. I brainstormed, discussed it with trusted writing friends, and teased it thoroughly in my mind. But as a ‘discovery writer’, I realized that the only way to find the real answer was to write. And so I began.
Here is where the faith comes in. I didn’t know where I was going. I knew my world, I knew my characters, I knew the physical path… but I couldn’t fully fathom the mental, emotional, and spiritual strains they’d have to endure or how they’d cope with them. The only way to find these answers was to discover the obstacles along with my protagonist. I was confident that a story lay there and I believed that I could find it.
I won’t sugar coat things. The journey is seldom easy… not for my protagonist. Not for me. Though time tends to fog the memory of previous struggles, I’m certain that this is the hardest book I’ve written. There are days when I stare at the page and have nothing. There are days when I read what I’ve done and realize I’ve gone astray (For more thoughts on that, check out my article concerning when writer’s block is a blessing here). The path, as a result, has often been slower than I’d hoped, yet with each step the end gets closer and clearer.
Writing is an act of faith. It is about persisting against doubt. This can include realizing that the path you’ve taken is flawed, requiring you to backtrack and test a new route. It is working through the slog, realizing that for all the flaws of the first draft, you can clean it in the second. It is about pressing toward that conclusion you can’t always see through the darkness that lies ahead.
I think this is where most aspiring writers fail, so my word of encouragement would be not to give up. Realize that the struggle is part of the tempering any good story must face. Does this mean that no project should ever be tossed in the trash bin? No. But the reason for that decision should never simply be because it is hard. Every story is challenging in its own way. You’ll never escape that. When you pull a new book off the shelf and see it in all its pristine magnificence, it is hard to see the sweat, the grit, the doubts, and frustration that brought it into being. Yet know that they occurred. They always do.