As many of you know, I’m working on a new Star Wars novel. The untitled fourth volume in the Coruscant Nights series. I can’t tell you much about it, except that it’s going to be a long read and that I’m loving the writing of it because I love the main character, Jax Pavan. I love his companions, Den and I-Five. I love the characters Michael Reaves made up to go with them and I love the characters I’m making up to go with them.
Michael and I brainstormed three pretty much complete versions of the outline for the book before we came to an agreement with our editors and experts about what would and would not be in it.
Outlining, to me, is an interesting iterative process in which we move from the general to the specific. So, the first outline is, say, ten pages long and describes the overall plot of the book and the big movements within it. But to be able to actually write the individual scenes, I need to drill down a little deeper than that and block out each segment of the book before I start writing scenes.
This novel broke itself into rough thirds. Starting from the outline that LucasBooks and Del Rey accepted, I blocked out the first third. Then I started writing scenes.
The second third of the book I blocked out while inside an MRI machine. I recommend this highly. The sensory deprivation and arrhythmic noises (which sound something like a band of rhythm-challenged Capuchin monkeys trying their best to recreate the 1812 Overture) are great for freeing up the brain. These machines are pricey, but you can borrow one if you do something wild and crazy like playing racquet ball when you’re five months pregnant and blowing out your hip.
So, thanks to my inappropriate behavior and modern medicine, the last third of the book was roughed out, but I needed to get down to the blocking of individual scenes or sets of scenes. And here I teetered at the edge of a chasm. I was stuck. So I started an email to my Jedi Master (Michael) begging him to pull my chestnuts out of the fire and give me some ideas about what to do with this very critical scene. Just before I hit the Send button, a door opened in my head and the answer to my quandary stood there like the Archangel of Aha!, holding out a chalice of
Ooo, shiny! (I’m telling you, my Master is good. I never even had to send the email!)
I can’t even begin to describe what it feels like when that door opens. It’s like falling in love. It’s like exploring a cavern no one’s seen before—or an Antonio Gaudi building, if you’re squeamish about bats and such. It’s like reading a book that some unknown Muse sneaked in and wrote on the inside of your head.
Which it reminds me of something mystery novelist Lawrence Block said about writing:
“At … times I see myself more as a channel than a source, conveying stories from some unknowable well… Perhaps everything we could write already exists in perfect form; it emerges on the page in one degree or another of imperfection, depending upon the extent to which we are open channels.”
And—this is so meta—the scene I was blocking out dealt with our protagonist trying to access information he is clueless about how to get into. Kind of like I was before I used the Force.
Never doubt the power …