Rakers Week 3 – The Evolution of an Idea

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There is a question at the heart of Rakers that I won’t spoil here and that, frankly, doesn’t get explicitly answered in the novel. I’m not sure I want to definitively answer it in the series as a whole either, because some queries don’t have clearcut choices.

When I started thinking about the book, this question did not exist in my mind. It did not emerge fully-formed after my morning coffee as something that needed a story to build around. Rather, as I began tinkering with the parts that would become Rakers, the question solidified and became the defining backbone for the story as a whole.

This morphing causes as many problems as it solves.

I think it’s easier to write with a guiding idea, with some central theory that the story is seeking to explore. A question you’re trying to answer or at least poke at with the story. The action provides a bit of narrative focus and allows you to corral characters that might otherwise turn into caricatures or, perhaps worse, become flat because there doesn’t appear to be a reason for them to keep doing what they’re doing outside of “plot”. However, when an idea comes to inform a story organically, you can find yourself scrambling to fix parts that no longer jive with the “vision” for the tale.

Take, for example, this villain: Jerry Fireball. He’s a manic wizard with a penchant for lighting things aflame when he’s bored or frustrated just because he can. As an antagonist, playing a set of heroes against this pyromaniac might be fun, but let’s look at Jerry’s motivations. If he’s simply set on burning the world down, then I think we can all agree that Jerry deserves to be quenched. If the guiding idea for your story is that, say, fire is bad, then writing a tale in which the burning punk gets his due comeuppance would be satisfying. I would hazard a guess, though, that Jerry wouldn’t go down as a particularly memorable villain.

Now, though, what happens if your idea isn’t just “kill the bad guy” but, instead, that fire and/or destruction breed the way for new life? Now, in your story where Jerry runs around wreaking havoc, you might feel compelled to introduce some other dimensions. Like, say, maybe Jerry’s fire is actually a way of bringing things back into another world that’s in serious jeopardy for one reason or another. That Jerry is the sole person able to, by burning objects in our world, bring support to the people trapped in this other place? Suddenly Jerry isn’t just a mindless monster, he’s deliberately choosing targets (bringing a mystery element to our heroes) and, when we find out the real reason these things are happening, Jerry has some potential to be sympathetic. The heroes may even find themselves trying to work with him in some way.

Of course, if you decide on this change of idea later in the writing process, adjusting plot beats and scenes to account for Jerry’s newfound motivations takes work. You’ve gotta massage that character. However, I think the end result is worth it. You’ll have a more memorable narrative, and (hopefully) you’ll have more fun writing it too. Which is what really matters, right?