Like many writers, I have a snippet file. This is the place where ideas that are not quite fully formed go, or scenes that lack a story, or things that need to be written but are not really canon get consigned. Some of the latter . . . ick. Rada having a pity party? Not that kind. There’s also some half-formed scenes that never worked but that inspired something that actually did fit, and some lousy early snippets that I keep around because they remind me that progress is possible, and what not to write (when you can hear the sad violins swelling in the background and everything goes into soft focus? No. It’s not going to work, not for me at least.)
However, after several years, a piece that ended up in the file bubbled up and helped change a chapter to make it far, far better than the original. Here’s what happened.
Seven years ago, I’d written a chapter about Rada visiting Schloß Hohen-Drachenburg in September, after she and Joschka are engaged. I liked the chapter, but as time passed, something about the overall feel started to nag me. Think about the tag on a shirt collar or hem, one that you can usually ignore, but that just hangs around, making itself felt, not irritating enough to trim off but there. That’s what I was sensing when I re-read the chapter. Something about it seemed cloying, not quite true to the characters in some way. Every time I went back to it, the itch returned, not severely enough to try to gut and rewrite the chapter, but nagging.
Early this week I went walking, just listening to things around me and not thinking. A different piece bubbled up, from the snippet file. For those of you who remember, it’s the scene I wrote after listening to “The Mary Ellen Carter.” Then came the not-quite-right chapter. Bingo!
Why was Rada so wound up, and then so willing to take what Joschka offered her? His gift had some major strings, which she knew, but she still grabbed it with both hands and all claws. Because she’d just pulled herself and the Dark Hart back from the edge of dissolution by sheer force of will. She couldn’t trust the timethreads anymore, and that shocked and terrified her. Combine it with being September on the Earth calendar, and no wonder she’s willing and ready to accept (at last) what Joschka offered, strings and all. With that as the first part of the section, and trimming some of the chapter’s maudlin bits back to more reasonable proportions, the chapter works and the itch went away. Rada’s not going to tell Joschka what happened, but by now he can tell that something is chewing on her. Heck, her horse can tell she’s tense, with predictable results.
Yes, it took three-four years for the needed pieces to come together. I could probably have used the chapter as it stood with a little tap-dancing, but it would have stuck out in a way that didn’t let the characters be themselves. Now that there’s a very strong motivation for Rada to do what she does, the scene makes far more sense and fits better into the flow of the book.
I think one of the hardest things for me to learn is to trust my subconscious. I’m getting better, but the current book is more subconscious-driven than most of what I’ve done, and it irks me. Obviously, with the chapter from the Cat Among Dragons book, I knew something didn’t work, but couldn’t, or wouldn’t, see just where the problem was until I stepped very far back and let things simmer, then bubble up. And of course, now that it’s come together, I feel like slapping myself on the forehead for not seeing it sooner. Duh. Of course – no motivation! Why is [character] acting out of character, sort of? What is driving the action?
Yes, I’m slow. Just call me lorus.