Life being, y’know, life, there is always something that needs doing somewhere, and some of those things just have to be done by you. This has given rise to what many of us call the To-Do List – “a list of tasks that need to be completed, typically organized in order of priority” (thanks for filling in my dictionary’s gap, oxforddictionaries.com). These lists will vary from person to person, and from day to day. For the sake of illustration, my list of things I ought to get done on Random Example Day could include:
– Write blog posts
– Eat breakfast before 2pm
– Retrieve laundry from basement (and perhaps actually fold and put it away in a timely manner, for a change)
– Hit the treadmill for at least ten minutes (brisk walking acceptable, but jogging/running ideal; stretch before and after to avoid injury)
– Complete some edits on an old novella
These are things I may or may not particularly feel like doing, but will hopefully have discipline enough to make myself do anyway without a great deal of to-do in the “commotion or stir” sense.
What do I feel like doing? Well, that’s another list entirely – the Want To Do List, if you will. I would love to…
– Hit upon a thrilling new novel idea and run with it for tens of hundreds of words
– Play songs at my piano, with as much volume and abandon as I please
– Just drop everything and read a book, guilt-free
– Gab on the phone with my best friend for hours on end
– Tell you all about the totally awesome wonderful super-exciting news I hinted at in my last post (I still don’t get to do that, yet. Soon, soon, soon!)
And those are just my somewhat realistic wishes, never mind my fanciful desires to fly like Peter Pan or teleport to Disney World or suddenly discover that I’ve morphed into one of Robin Hood’s Merry Men.
Now, there can be some best-of-both-worlds overlap, here. There are hours enough in the day that I could feasibly get everything done that I need to AND play the piano, do some reading, and maybe even chat a while with my friend, if her own To-Do List allows her the time.
As it happens, novel-writing is a lot like this.
There are things that really ought to happen within your book if you want it to be any good. It would do well to have:
– A beginning, a middle, and an end
– Characters with their own personalities, motivations, and all that other good stuff that makes them come across as people rather than just words on a page or girls who beat up on bison
– Action of one kind or another (because a novel is a heck of a long time to watch paint dry. …unless there’s a lot more drama going on with that paint that I’m imagining, right now. Convince me)
– Something that makes the readers feel something (gladness, sadness, indignation, surprise, horror, relief, whatever – just get them emotionally invested, and you’re winning!)
These are some of the basic marks that we writers aim to hit, no matter the overall plot, the genre, the target audience. Then there’s the stuff that we just feel like throwing in there somewhere because, come on, wouldn’t it be cool? Random things like:
– Dragons whose singing brings the sun up in the morning
– Swashbuckling with swords forged in Death’s own blood
– Somebody named [insert the coolest name you ever thought of here]
– A sweet romance between the royal heroine and the guy who tests her food for poison
– That one inside joke that no one will get except for you and your friend, but that’s okay because you don’t need that context for it to make sense within the plot
It is fully possible to combine these two lists into one fantastic story. So long as we writers get done what we need to, we can build whatever we want around it – even the crazy stuff like Peter Pan flight, teleportation to Disney World, and waking up as Allyn-a-Dale.
Fiction is flexible like that. Life can be, too, in its own realty-bound way. Thank goodness for that, or I’d have to feel really terrible about how one thing or another on my To-Do Lists so often get put off until another day.