I often imagine stories like a mural. I have a rough idea of the whole thing. I have images for where the story starts and ends, and a vague notion of the middle. It’s like looking at the picture on a jigsaw puzzle box.
As I think more about it, the edges will fill in, and I’ll see the bits as jigsaw pieces: characters, lines, items, scenes, technology, spells, organizations, races, jargon, speech, etc. It’s not always immediately apparent how they’ll all fit together. Some are compelling. Some seem minor, but are later pivotal. Some make no sense if they’re not consistent.
One example from ATR is Narathana’s gahan on the bridge. A song from a movie soundtrack inspired that scene, and for a couple years, I had that jigsaw piece hovering, of a fighter protecting her child with a defiant spell song. It wasn’t until I wrote ATR that I realized where that jigsaw piece fit.
Like that scene, some items are these rare shiny bits, and I don’t know where to put them right away. They’re tempting to shoe-horn into a current project or scene du jour, but I have to weigh each one carefully and decide if it’s right, if it fits, really. Trying to force it just ruins the puzzle. Sometimes I have to realize that it’s a great piece—but maybe to a different puzzle. And so I put that aside for later.
Like a jigsaw, the “final” piece isn’t one on the edges, or the last scene that I write. It’s a curious one in the middle, without which the picture would seem incomplete. It’s that piece that bridges the entire work together, and while all stories need a strong beginning, middle, and end, it’s this singular piece, perhaps just off-center, which locks it all in and connects to all the other pieces in a way that makes the mural resonate.
When that moment happens, it’s wonderful.
And then the moment passes, the story ends, and the editing begins.
But that’s another story.