I have to write Tallulah.
I have a morbid desire to go through this blog and embarrass myself by counting up every time I’ve made some grand sweeping statement about how I’m going to write Tallulah, because I’m pretty sure that’s about half the posts on this blog – but seriously, I have to fucking write Tallulah.
I haven’t encouraged myself to write my incredibly generative werewolf YA impulse-write novel since the shit went down with missing my flight to Malaysia and scrambling to see if there was anything I could do about it, nor did I get myself to work on let alone submit my Masters proposal, which I have to get done today if I want to retain any shred of dignity I have left. I mean okay I’ll live but I just hate not being on top of things that I feel I should be able to be on top of. And Tallulah is one of them.
I’ve known a few things about Tallulah for a very, very long time: Tallulah started off as a very, very small idea and simply due to spending as much time on it as I have it has become a magnet for every inspired idea I’ve thrown at it and is now being drowned under its own weight; there is too much going on that has nothing to do with the heart of the story and, while I could continue to chip away at it until it’s sculpted into something resembling a coherent story, it’s not a story I actually want to tell; there are three main antagonists and they all get in each other’s way and clog up the narrative flow; I have a lot of darlings inhabiting my grand scheme for this book and can’t think of anywhere else to put them and that’s why I’ve permitted them to hold up my progress for this long; I want a more upbeat and simultaneously darkly humorous verison of this story that incorporates all of my darlings but don’t have the energy to make myself write that version of the story; so much of what I like about the story is comprised of stand-alone scenes and ideas in my head that aren’t actually motivated by storytelling, just the “it’d be cool/profound/angsty as fuck if” factor that they possess … I know all of this, and have known it for a long time. But while I don’t know how to get out of this gunky mess I’ve found myself in, I know that I want to. I know that I do actually still want to write this story, despite all the frustrations and self-imposed roadblocks I’ve had to deal with. I guess maybe it’s just been long enough that I’ve recovered from my stumbles and have some of my momentum and enthusiasm back – in which case: awesome. I know I can rely on that happening with other projects in the future.
I want to write this book and tell this story. Now it’s just a matter of figuring out how to do it.
I’ve said multiple times that Tallulah is a very small story that I’ve allowed to become bloated. It’s not like there aren’t ways to make that version of the story work; it’s that I haven’t even bothered to try writing any of them, and I cannot be fucked doing so. That’s because this is yet another “wouldn’t it be cool if X” thought-experiment as opposed to an actual story that I have in mind.
However, through writing my shitty YA werewolf impulse-write novel, I have learnt the incredible value of distinguishing between the ideas that I have that are motivated by a desire to tell a story, and the ideas that are motivated by the desire to just think about how cool said ideas are. It’s like the difference between wanting to actually discuss something and just reblogging an interesting article: the motive is everything. If you talk about social justice online long enough, as I have, the very idea of intention almost becomes repulsive, a cowardly excuse waiting to happen. But, I mean, intention matters. It has to matter. There are some things it cannot and should not ever excuse, which is where social justice comes into play, but aside from very dire circumstances it has to matter, because we have to see each other as human. I’m digressing though – my point is that for writing and storytelling, for planning a story, intention is everything. It’s the difference between jotting down a few notes in a Word document and actually sitting down to tell the story itself.
Because it gives your ideas purpose. It gives them a role. I’ve talked about how playing Dungeons and Dragons really helped me to hone my storytelling skills, and it’s because playing Dungeons and Dragons gets you to think a LOT about intentionality. In order to prepare an adventure to lead other players through, for instance, you need to know each player’s character’s skills and abilities, think of what’s going to be an interesting and engaging play experience for them where their unique group dynamic as well as their individual skills are not just put to the test but also given opportunities to shine, how to break an adventure into different stages so that it’s not just immediate gratification and they actually have a sense of having earned something by the end of it. You have to plan like a motherfucker, and the thing is that not only will D&D teach you how to do it, but it will also teach you that it’s fun. It is fun to plot out the stages of an adventure, to set up an end goal and then work out how to cut it up into little pieces and have them all run together in a chain of dominoes, the triggering of one setting off the next one right up until the final piece falls into place, like springing a trap, only instead of dying you get closure and resolution (and loot).
The one big adventure that I never quite got around to setting up was to have the players enter a dungeon where a Lich was seeking to overpower a dragon that had shacked up there. The end reward was obviously going to be treasure, and the most obvious obstacle was the dragon. The Lich, however, couldn’t do anything without its phylactery, so it had the players go around and find all the different jars that contained its organs. Each jar would be guarded by a different kind of hazard, and each time a jar was returned to the Lich the players got to progress further into the dungeon. But each time they progressed, they also learnt something about the dungeon that ultimately led to realising that the Lich was actually trying to get to the dragon and turn it into a zombie dragon under its control, and that the dragon was the dungeon’s original owner. The players would then be left with the option of pitting the two against each other, trying to sabotage the Lich and find a way to steal the treasure from the dragon, trying to convince the dragon to help them kill the Lich and spare their lives, or some other thing. The open-endedness that works for a game obviously doesn’t work quite as well in a static story, but learning the importance of staging has been one of the most valuable things I’ve learnt as a writer, and I wish I’d kept that skill more honed than it currently is.
All of this comes back to the problem of not really having a story in mind for Tallulah, which is, I now understand, the main reason why I’m just not motivated to write it: it’s not a story. It’s a bunch of ideas, and ideas fulfill their function perfectly fine just by being thought about. You don’t have to put them into action for them to serve their purpose. But a story is different, because it needs to be told before it can actually be a story, even if you only tell it to yourself. And that’s what I don’t have with Tallulah.
So is it a matter of trying to force myself to see this new, darkly humorous version of Tallulah that completely changes the tone as a story when it currently just isn’t in my mind? Is it a matter of trying to “roll back” my progress, return to the very small, simple story I originally had and force myself to only write that – to force myself to write exactly what’s on my mind, as that’s what worked with my werewolf thing? Is it a matter of biting the bullet and continuing with what I’ve got written so far just because it’s easier and I want to move on to the next thing? Is it a matter of starting over from scratch again and waiting until I do have a story worth telling?
Because another part of this unsolved equation is the fact that I don’t like the idea of having to rewrite a bunch of stuff that I’ve already written, particular lines and sentences that work well that I don’t want to have to find new ways to say, or risk saying less interestingly than I already have. Which I can compensate for by copy and pasting, obviously, but for that to work I need to know exactly which bits I need, and because I really don’t have a story in mind yet I don’t know what those bits are.
Thus far, I know one thing that will work:
- Write exactly what I have in mind
And combined with needing to have a story to tell for me to be motivated, I guess the plan is to wait until I have a story in mind, and then write it.
Did it seriously take me three and a half fucking years to work that one out?
I guess it did.
Doesn’t feel like it’s helping.
There is a chapter that I want to write. I think that this is actually the best bet for me: write the chapter, because it’s what I have in mind, and because the chapter itself is kind of like a mini-story. It’s a chapter from the latest version of the story that I think would be cool, not necessarily the story that I want to tell, but I do want to tell this part of it and, since I don’t really have a better alternative, I may as well do that and see if it leads anywhere productive. It might. And if not, well, I can at least be certain of it.
I don’t think I actually learnt anything. I just made a decision. But when it comes to this book, making a decision is fucking phenomenal.
Okay. Let’s write.