Twenty-five years ago, I came up with several great (I thought) story ideas based on some of my past life memories and past life remembrances of a few of my friends. Using my moderate writing ability, I tried to mash them all together into something understandable and interesting.
What I ended up with was two characters who didn’t like each other much (or at all), but had to work together to save the world. (You know, standard stuff; nothing fancy.) I played with some characterizations and some plot lines, but couldn’t seem to separate my characters enough from myself and the people I had drawn the past life information from. I was still too close to everything and everyone. When I tried to strip down the characters into something different from the memories, I couldn’t do it. And when I tried to pick one timeline and one scenario, it didn’t work.
I also discovered that while I had spent years writing for a living, writing a novel was something all together different. I was used to writing short items: news articles, how-to guides, and short stories. While the first two types of writing helped me hone my basic writing skills, they did little for my writing voice (my author’s voice) and my story development skills. The short stories had kept my creative skills from getting rusty, but writing a short story is still quite different from writing a full novel.
Short stories have quick arcs. You need to introduce and develop your characters within a page, maybe two. The same with the situation (plot) and the motivation. A short story, by its very nature, needs to be introduced, developed, and resolved in an abbreviated time frame (hence the title – short story).
Frustrated with myself and my lack of skill in novel writing, and finding the everyday drama of life intruding too much, I took all my notes, outlines, sketched out scenes, characterizations, and pieces of dialogue, and I tossed them into a drawer for a while.
Every few months or so, I would pull out everything and take another stab at creating something cohesive from the bits. I would twist the ideas around, add some substance to the characters, remove character traits that no longer seemed to fit, add a plot twist here and there, but in the end I would toss it back in the drawer. However, the story was always with me; it was always in the back of my mind, stewing.
Eventually, I realized that I was never going to get the story to conform to the format of historical fiction (ala Taylor Caldwell), so I started thinking about creating a period romance. However, the past life memories were too scattered and piecemeal, and there were too many periods jumbled together for me to pick just one. And the story pieces I was finding embedded in all of these memories wasn’t romance so much as something on a larger scale. There was a bigger lesson, a more overarching story being told. I just needed to pick the right pieces to make that story work.
So, having discarded the historical formats for my story, I wondered what type of format I could use that would still let me incorporate a myriad of timelines. Someone suggested fantasy. I hadn’t really read much fantasy, at least not lately (I head read some when I was a young adult, but that had been years ago. ). But from what I remembered of it, it just might be a good fit. I could create my own world, which would let me incoroprate all the different time periods (or many of them, anyway) into the story and it wouldn’t appear quite so odd.
Freed from the stumbling block of placing it in our own reality and time period helped the ideas flow. Sure, I had to ensure that the story still felt real; everything had to be within the realm of possibility, but it no longer mattered if magic merged with technology, or if my alien world was populated by Medieval societies.
Because it had been so long since I had visited the realms of fantasy writing, I began reading all the fantasy novels I could. I wanted to see how the authors built their worlds, introduced their characters, and explained their societies without slowing the pace of the book or killing the story before it even got started.
I went for a wide variety of fantasy authors from Piers Anthony to Margaret Weis, from Marion Zimmer Bradley to JK Rowling. They all had their own style of bringing their readers into their fantastical world–some I liked, some I didn’t. But it definitely gave me more to think about. And so my own story was again placed in a drawer while I went off to read, study, learn, and read some more.