I’m sitting in the middle of Chapter One of Dream On, methodically making my way through as I check for typos, sense, flow, and other little bits and pieces that will make the story read more smoothly.
In the back of my mind as I read are the bigger questions – does this scene need to be here? What is this particular scene contributing to the larger story? (Hint: If the answer is nothing, delete the scene. If it’s not driving the story forward, it doesn’t belong in the book.)
In an even further back place in my mind, there is another question hovering. Why am I telling this story? Or, why am I telling this story? What do I have to say to the world at large, that I am using this story, this book, as a medium for? (Hint: If you can’t answer that question, you lack theme. Then you’re writing a story, but you’re not saying anything…and although the story might work on its own, with a beginning, a middle and an end, it won’t leave the reader with anything to take away. It won’t have resonance. It won’t matter.)
The stories we love, the ones we remember, are the ones that matter to us. The ones that challenge us, that confuse us, that make us reconsider the world and our place in it. One of my favourite reviews for Dare to Dream made this very clear:
This book is really the best book I have EVER read in my whole life! It is a mix between romance and action. I loved it. I cried at the end and it made my think of how lucky we are to have things like food and a roof over our heads.
– Avery Kasper, via Amazon.com
I cannot tell you how thrilled I was when I read that review. Quite aside from everything else, it was those four words that made my day: It made me think.
But it doesn’t always come easy. The problem with my original draft of Against the Clock is that it doesn’t do that. It doesn’t have that elusive something that makes it powerful, that makes it important, that will hopefully make the reader stop and think. How would I feel if I was in that situation? What would I do, when faced with that dilemma? When given that choice? As a reader, your answers to those questions might be completely different to the choices that the characters make, but that doesn’t really matter. The point is that it makes you stop, makes you think, makes you reconsider.
That it has something to say.
I read a blog post today by Hugh Howey that resonated with me. He wrote that:
When writing is going well, it feels more like reading or discovery than it does writing or creation. It feels as though the story could go no other way than the way we’re writing it. Like it existed before us.
I think – I hope – that all writers have had that feeling. Sometimes it’s one that develops slowly as you work through the book, as you get to know the characters. Sometimes characters leap off the page and you feel as though you’ve known them forever – others are more shy, and it takes time to get familiar with them. (Of my characters, Marley falls into the first category. Her sister Kris falls into the second – but we’ve become very close since I wrote Dream On.)
But that’s when writing is going well. What about when it’s not? Howey reckons that when your writing just won’t flow, it means that there’s something wrong. Somewhere along the line, you’ve taken a step onto the wrong path, and you need to go back and try again. Sci-fi and fantasy author extraordinaire Robin Hobb said something very similar at a book signing that I went to recently. When I get writer’s block, she explained, I know it means I’ve gone wrong somewhere. So I just go back a few pages and pick up the story again from there, and this time, take the characters down a different path.
I get the feeling that American poet Robert Frost knew that too.
Two paths diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less travelled by
And that has made all the difference.
What I particularly liked about Howey’s blog post was that he also talked about that moment when you recognise the story you need to tell. When you have that lightbulb moment, and you know that you’ve just stumbled upon something great. And how it feels when you do. Non-writers might be surprised to hear that it doesn’t feel as though you’ve made it up…as he says, it feels like you’ve remembered it.
Ever had the feeling you were forgetting something as you left the house? You walk around, wracking your brain, trying to figure out what it is. Exhausting every option, you decide your intuition is wrong. It isn’t until you’re half an hour away from the house that the missing thing percolates up to the conscious level.
This is writing. You know what happens next. The challenge is remembering.
I can still remember exactly where I was when I discovered the key turning point in Dare to Dream. I suppose it could be described as the whodunnit? moment. (If you’ve read the book you’ll know what I mean – and if you haven’t, what are you waiting for?) I was writing the story, putting it together slowly, like a complicated jigsaw puzzle that I just knew had a horse in the middle of it, but was missing some crucial pieces around the outside. A bit like one of those Wasgij? puzzles, where you sort of know what you’re making, but you won’t be able to truly see it until you get to the very end. Then one morning I was driving to work, along State Highway One just south of Waikanae, under the rail bridge and approachin the 80km/h speed zone, and all of a sudden I realised that I knew who’d done it. What’s more, I knew why. The story fell into place that day, and I couldn’t wait to get to a computer so I could write it all down.
It might sound crazy to be writing a story and still putting the pieces together – especially such crucial pieces as that – as you go. But sometimes that’s how it works. And looking back, it wasn’t until I had read that first draft, which I thought was complete and perfect, from go to whoa on a plane to New York, that I realised the story had a problem. I wasn’t making a puzzle that had a horse in the middle of it after all. So I went back to the drawing board. I deleted and rewrote and added scenes and refined the book, until I had the picture – the story – that I needed.
Because ultimately, Dare to Dream isn’t a story about a pony. It’s a story about three sisters.
The reviewer from NZBooklovers saw it too:
It is the relationships in this book that make Dare to Dream special. Lattey has done a wonderful job at crafting a unique relationship between the three sisters – they each have defined personalities, and often clash with one another, but the love they have for each another shines through. It is the excellent relationships that Lattey has cultivated that made the book so emotionally poignant.
And once I realised that, I could write Dream On easily.
Well, not easily.