In the Minotaur’s Maze
Posted April 11, 2011on:
By which I mean to say, that I am following a thread. It’s not a real thread, unfortunately, but a thread of logic, of coherence, and consistency. It is in short, a thread of story.
Lots of authors out there can tackle any piece of a story that comes their way, writing up little pieces of text that will, eventually, get put into the right order so the story is revealed, much like a picture puzzle. I am not one of those people. The writing experience for me is very simple: I start at some beginning (which, often as not, comes to me in a dream or a random comment, or some internal visualization) and I keep going until I get to the end.
There are upsides and downsides to thread-following, as there are to most things. The upside is that the maze becomes less of a maze. Random side alleys are less inviting, if they even get noticed. I’m not looking at them, I’m looking at my thread. I’ll go down a random side alley if the thread does. Which it often does. To a pantser, every alley is a random side alley.
But, not all side alleys are alleys I want to go down, even if the thread leads there. My latest WIP, Ghostkiller, has my MC currently working with a pair of homicide detectives investigating, well, a homicide. Another Ghostkiller. Which has lots of nasty ghostkiller-related consequences. And I don’t know much about homicide detective procedures anyway. I’m interested in the guy, not the job. Do I really want to go down that alley?
Fortunately, I don’t have to. Story logic is multi-branching, and there are threads all over the place. There are doubtless other threads I can follow which do not require me to know about police call-in procedures. I’m not a complete pantser, either, so I have some idea of which threads I want to follow and where they’re likely to go. If I’m done the job right, or got lucky, there’ll be a branch just up ahead. If there’s no branch, maybe I’ll do like the hero in Tron and make one. If I’m not lucky and I can’t just make it up, there was a branch just a little back there. If I’m really unlucky the last branch was quite a long time ago, and I’ve got some serious revising to do.
Which, curiously, is another benefit of thread-following. Dead ends and bad branches don’t hang around in the text, waiting to be excised in a furious burst of revision and second drafting. The current draft is the only draft. When editing time comes along there’s almost nothing left to do but the mechanical formatting and grammatical stuff. Of course I suppose I could just save that text and see if it makes sense somewhere else. That’s another weird thing about story logic, a scene that makes no sense from one direction can make perfect sense somewhere else. The manner in which you enter the alley dictates whether or not there’s an exit, and if so what kind.
But if you drop the thread you’re screwed, hunting around on hands and knees in the dark, groping about until you find it again. Which could take a while. If you’re like me you’ve got a bunch of threads at the same time, though, so if you can’t find one you can just spin off on a different thread-axis and work on a different story for a while. The threads are all connected, after all, by following one you may pick up the one you lost. Happens to me all the time. On the other hand, having multiple threads can be a problem if they all start calling at once.
I haven’t said anything about the main metaphor in this sea of troubles, the minotaur that lives in the maze. Which is only fair, I suppose. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it, and have no idea what it could be. Do you?