I’ve been picking away at a scene in my novel’s first draft for days now. Almost a week. The idea of the scene had come to me long ago; the brief couple of sentences describing it had been in my outline almost since I first started this draft, two years ago. I thought I had a handle on how it fit in to the larger story, and what my characters were supposed to do, and what I thought they’d learn.
But as I would work on writing it down, laying down the tracks, picking minor characters and “hearing” what they wanted to do and say, it didn’t really make sense. And the more I worked on it, the less it seemed to make sense. The scene, as I wove together all the little bits and pieces, got less and less relevant.
Why was my main character here, talking to these people, about this topic? They were hostile to him. They didn’t want him here. He was an outsider. Their concerns were not his concerns, in fact, they didn’t care about any of the major themes of my book.
So why did I choose them? These people don’t exist in the real world. I picked this place. I placed these people.
My output over the past couple of days dwindled. I was barely getting a couple of sentences per day. Every word I wrote, it seemed, made it more and more apparent that I had no idea what I was doing in this scene. I got a couple of good jokes in, building off of the tension, (the book is a comedy, after all), but there was no way I could reach my original planned climax for this scene, without breaking my characters or starting over from scratch.
I have to admit, I was worried. I’ve been blocked for months now, and it’s only by hook, crook, and sheer willpower that I’ve been able to unblock enough to work on the novel at all. But I trusted in the process: work on it every day, make small goals but meet them, and just keep writing.
And this morning, as I wrote whatever came next in this difficult scene… it came together. I realized that it all made sense after all. There was a reason my MC had to talk to these people, and win them over on his side. It all built off of what I already knew about him, and them, and the evidence and clues were there, in the book at large and laid down over the past few days, piece by piece.
Oh, and it had nothing at all to do with my originally planned outcome for this scene, but that’s because I planned it before writing 35K+ words and learning what this story is really about. That’s the difference between an outline, and a draft. That’s why you have to write it down. That’s why you have to keep writing even when you doubt it’s working, because sometimes it works itself out.
As my friend Athena says, that’s why you have to trust the story.