I looked forward to this week’s post for about six months.
Our family and several friends invaded and conquered Seaquest State Park’s ‘Yurt Village’ for an end-of-summer camping trip. (Well, ‘conquered’ in the sense that we made reservations months ago…but in my opinion, camping with small children deserves more adventurous-sounding verbs.)
Like most of western Washington’s state parks, Seaquest sports towering evergreens girded with huckleberry bushes and clumps of sword ferns. It’s pretty and peaceful. The real draw, however, is its neighbor.
Mount St. Helen’s impressed herself into American memory with a catastrophic eruption which climaxed in the collapse of the peak on May 18th, 1980.
My husband and I hadn’t visited the Mount St. Helen’s National Volcanic Monument for twelve years or so. I remembered it as a broken, blasted landscape, still eerily empty two and a half decades after the big blow out.
On this trip, I hoped to return to the Johnston Ridge Observatory, a close viewpoint to the crater, where the words of the man for whom the observatory is named are immortalized.
“Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!”
Unfortunately for him, it was.
I looked forward to sharing a blog filled with pictures taken by my talented other half, and even had a ‘writing connection’ planned out- how the history of a setting affects the mood of our writing.
I think it could have been an interesting piece.
The volcano didn’t cooperate.
The crater was entirely covered in haze. The members of our party who attempted the drive to the observatory found the same.
No volcano. No pictures. No blog article.
And no new ideas.
Except… it does serve as an example of why writers need to keep flexible…
Yeah, that could work!
Maybe your writing experience has been like mine. My best laid plans, whether for blogs, for plot points, for character backgrounds, for (insert any that apply here) constantly need adaptation.
Some changes I choose to make.
Others, I’ve been forced into.
For instance, the manuscript I’m querying for right now is historical fiction, set during the Second World War. When I started writing the piece, I already had my story arc planned out. Research, I was certain, would put flesh on the skeleton.
I hadn’t finalized the locations for all of the story events, but I had some exciting ideas. I was fascinated by unfamiliar places and names- names like Tobruk and The Desert Fox and El Alamein. I dove into sources detailing the conflicts in North Africa.
Things went well, and I wrote some scenes that felt vivid and interesting and as if they’d fit the story just right…
…and then I found one, fatal piece of information. During the time period I was scouring, the Allies were not in control of the Mediterranian. Transport to and from these North African conflicts would require an 8 week voyage around the Cape of Good Hope.
This one fact completely destroyed my timeline for the rest of the story.
Oh, I tried to wiggle around it, adapt a few things, invent some convoluted backstory, but I finally had to admit it- my characters couldn’t have been there.
Delete. Delete. Delete. Back to the books.
This wasn’t the first, or the last, time the facts forced my story to change. I’d already had to drop my research on the Norwegian campaign (sorry, distant relatives!) and would subsequently axe bits with V1 rockets, the ‘Baby Blitz,’ and a little section with the history of the cherry tree. Granted, that last one didn’t really have much to do with anything except a clumsy attempt at symbolism. It was a good cut 🙂
As a matter of fact, they were all good cuts.
Every time I hit a roadblock, every time I found that my expectations didn’t fit reality, every time I had to rewrite and rethink, I had another opportunity to grow and improve. Flexibility in my rewrites enabled me to eliminate the dross.
I imagine that this applies to writing in other genres, too. After all, unless you are writing an entirely new universe with rules that don’t match any of ours, (and if you are, I’d like to shake your hand- that’s no mean feat,) it’s likely that you’ve got some background research to do, whether it’s the proper mix of gasses for a dirigible, the load-bearing capabilities of swallows, or just how far the sound of the murder weapon will carry with or without a silencer.
The writer’s willingness to keep their story flexible, to learn the facts and build their fiction around those facts shows through in a polished finished product.
When the facts aren’t there… I’m not certain if the author of the ‘Farm’ board book my children received didn’t quite understand the “facts of life,” if it was a typo, or if they were just confused as to how pronouns work, but somehow the cows were all referred to as ‘he.’ As a child of dairy country, I can’t help laughing a bit when we get to that page. (I’ve tried to explain, but the kids still don’t quite get it.)
Forcing myself to be flexible is hard work, but it doesn’t have to be devastating.
After all, we didn’t see a volcano, but our kids likely enjoyed chasing each other around the woods more than they would have enjoyed educational hikes.
My fictional characters couldn’t get to all of the places I wanted to send them, but I kept their story tighter and more believable.
I didn’t get a photoblog about Mount St. Helen’s, but I was able to share this experience instead. I also now have a reason to plan another yurt trip someday, and maybe next time we’ll see that volcano, and that bear we think we heard snuffling around!
Have any of your writing (or other) plans gone in unexpected directions lately?