I feel like I should be stirring a cauldron at this point. Or meeting with others in some dark building with one naked bulb overhead.
Two different forces are at work just now. One is following the words, a bit like the children following the Pied Piper. (I’m hoping for one of the friendly versions of the story where the children get to come back afterwards.)
You don’t know where you are going, but the tune is irresistible, and so you follow it, even through gaps in rocks, and away from what you know.
The other force is structure. That sounds like a contradiction when I write it – one thing moving, the other stable. But structure in story can still shift – in fact, it often does, in the way of good detective stories.
You are given a structure that makes sense of what you know so far. Then you drop a nail into the machine of the story, and suddenly it starts moving things in a different way.
Some of this shift is coming from writing a few chapters and being unsure where to go next. You can follow the trail, but you may doubt the way ahead. So sometimes you look back at where you’ve come from, hoping for some patterns, some idea of where you go next.
I am finding myself thinking about structure in stories quite a bit just now. It might be in story arcs in an ongoing TV series. It might be spotting narrative patterns in books, switching back and forth between now, recent past, distant past, and so on.
I am reminded that you need both. J K Rowling famously had the character of Harry Potter wander into her head – but she also spent much time working out the universe in which he operated, what was possible, what wasn’t.
We read and write and watch stories partly because we are hoping for structure. We want things to make sense, one way or another, even if they follow a crazy path to get there.
I visited Coventry Cathedral one time. When you walk in the door, towards the altar, the windows fan back behind you. There is light, but you don’t see out of them.
But when you turn and look back the way you come, you see the windows clearly. The angle of them means that now you can see what is on them. You can read the story.
The explanation for the way the building was built has often come back to me. Sometimes the story only makes sense after the event.
Right now, I have two separate stories building. I have followed my nose for both of them so far. Now I am finding myself looking back at what I have written, trying to sense the patterns.
Where are the gaps? Where are the bits that ring true most? Is my storyline consistent? How old is this character when they do a certain thing?
Once you pass through the chink in the rock, following your story, you come across foothills. There are many of them. You are unsure how many, which way you’ve come, which way you are going.
Little by little, you map them. You put signal flares on top of some, to light your way. You stand at the top and light the torch, and see a new valley that you haven’t yet explored.
And so you move into the valley, hoping to pick up the sound of the piper’s tune once more.