Tea? Check. Philosophical mood? Check. Monday? Definitely check.
Today is a very special Meditative Monday folks. Why? It’s inspired by one of my favorite quotes by William James and it goes something like this:
We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.
Some time ago, I took a small break after I wrote the draft my current novel and during that break I took the time to stop and think about my writing process and reflect on all the progress that I’ve made. But as I’ve refined the way I write, and recently started on the final draft of my novel, I find that I keep coming back to this quote.
Technically, it’s about us as humans not being so different from each other, but when I thought about it some, it’s a very important lesson on writing too.
To Be Connected In The Deep
I often struggled with making my story stick together when I had my first few cracks at my novel. Sure I could write decent enough scenes, but when it came to putting those scenes together into a cohesive novel, it was a friggin’ disaster. The thing had more holes than swiss cheese and no sense of direction at all.
Everything was all about what sounds cool, what sounds sort of literary, and what could rouse emotions. And now I’ve started to realize that writing a novel is a very delicate tango.
The events must be separate enough that a reader can’t predict your ending from page 1. But at the same time, a story must have a tight sense of cohesion underneath, like well-oiled machine working to make sure that everything works as planned and that everything is accounted for.
The reader may never see a single part or gear of that machine. You may not even know the full complexity of your own novel, but there should be the illusion that something legitimate is there holding your story together.
When a story is not “connected in the deep”, you know right away because people will ask things, “Why does so and so do x…”, “Why doesn’t x just do…”, “How does x work…”, “What’s the point of…” A story that is well-thought out can usually answer these questions with a simple because statement.
For me, this lesson has been a great help on keeping my story from having unwanted plot gaps. And even if we’re not super obsessive plotters, it’s important to remember that the events of a book should come from the deeper forces of the story.
We’re talking about the political/ social/ economic climate, what the main protagonists and antagonists need and want, the stakes that people are willing to bet everything on the line for. When all these things are ping-ponging like helium in an air balloon, it’s bound to pop.
But they’ve all got to have that natural connection under the surface. Things that “happen” to line up only get tolerated for so long before the reader starts to call bs.
The easiest way to do this is to always check in with what characters want and think in a scene, and not just the main POV character mind you, all characters in that scene, good, bad and neutral.
But in a way, that original meaning of the quote can apply here too. When we write, our characters, even if not people, tend to behave like humans (or at least like a living thing) and tend to have similar base needs that we try to feel, and we all fall short of perfection know matter what we are.
And it’s from that seed that all the juicy conflicts and tension sprouts from. 😉