Patchwork

Word processor's word count, showing 10,029It may not be much objectively, but considering I’ve barely touched any non-contract writing since 2018, ten thousand words feels like a significant milestone to me.

It’s best to not contemplate how many more I’ll need.

My “outline” for this story is 53 pages. One might think that’s sufficiently thorough to have figured out everything that happens between Scene 1 and Scene 71 so there would be no surprises. That’s not the case (more’s the pity, since I’m a surprise-hater and can only wish planning = clairvoyance). Sometimes the act of writing exposes a logic chasm between Point A and Point B. I can see Point B waving at me, but I haven’t provided any way to get to it. Readers are going to notice if I don’t build a bridge between where I’ve led them and where I want them to go next, and it’s not a great idea to ask strangers to leap.

Sometimes you can go back and build the logic you need in what you’ve already written, but sometimes you need to add a scene that’s not in the original plan. When you’ve invested 53 pages in designing a story, adding a scene can look like an obvious patch job. You can camouflage it by making the scene do more than bridge the logic gap.

This story began as a portal fantasy. For reasons I’ll probably go into at some later date, I axed the “mundane” world part, and the heroine’s backstory went in the wood chipper along with it. I’m not the kind of writer who does character profiles detailing the protagonist’s best friend in second grade and the family tree going back 60 generations—like I said about worldbuilding, if the story doesn’t need information, it’s a waste of time to make it up. Accordingly, losing that original backstory wasn’t a huge blow to me, but the replacement befitting the heroine’s new situation was even more vague: she left her working-class family at 10ish, prompted by unspecified circumstances, when an opportunity to make something of herself in the capital presented. I’m not writing the YA story of her life, so the details could remain a mystery.

The scene I worked on today is an insertion. The heroine needs more information to push her to a known Point B. She can’t stroll into the nearest city and yell “Yo! Gimme information!” because she’s a fugitive. The story needs her to acquire information from a source well versed in gossip, rumors, and news unfit to print, and that source can’t be in a location it would be foolish for her to visit.

I settled on a traveling theater troupe. Their tour circuit takes them all over the continent, from small village squares to royal courtyards. They can be camped somewhere convenient for the heroine en route to their next gig. As perpetual outsiders, they notice things the locals take for granted. They know the dirt, and what the heroine needs to know would be among their observations. But why would they share it with her when she has nothing to offer in return?

Now a vague backstory comes in handy. That working-class background? Traveling theater troupe, which prepared her from an early age for a career rich in acting (lying), disguise, and improvisation and instilled an unfortunate tendency toward theatrical flourish. She knows the secret password to get into the clubhouse (figuratively speaking). She knows she can barter labor to get the news she wants, and she has the skills to perform the kind of labor they’ll value as much as she values their knowledge.

Now this logic-building patch is also providing characterization, but why stop there? The heroine doesn’t want to run into anyone who might recognize her (that pesky fugitive thing as well as more personal reasons), so she’s reluctant to approach them despite her need  for information (conflict). Also, she ran away for a reason, which is clarified in this extra scene and explains something about 10-year-old Heroine (more characterization) and gives her someone other than herself to worry about (motivation).

Now there’s a throughline from the distant past to the distant future embedded in this scene rather than just quick stitches attaching it to the edges of Point A and Point B, which makes it feel like it’s always been Scene 5, not an afterthought desperately slapped together to cover up a mistake.

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