I came home with a short stack of library books yesterday and then a wiggly puppy and a critique partner's draft sent me to the one shelf of books from my parents' house to pick upThe Phantom Tollbooth. This is joy pressed in ink and paper, a back pocket adventure of beguiling charm.
It is also the answer to a riddle I've been pondering in a draft of mine. A trusted, gifted reader suggested that this draft lacked an effective path, dropping the reader in a pile of tentacles-from-nowhere and undercutting the thrust of the beginning. I did what I generally do, grumble to myself, put the draft out of sight for little while, and then poke at it until I was ready to revise.
The revision did not begin well. I agreed that the tentacles were confusing; they had snuck up on me while I was in the middle of a soporific beach scene and I decided to let them flail away. I added some stuff to the beginning, slowly setting up the conflict and brushing on some sepia nightmare tones, remembered from old movies. Movies that I had, to be honest, hated. The kind where a sliver of the monster scuttles off to terrorize again in a sequel. Perhaps we don't defeat monsters, really, and yet, I don't want to use a template of something I dislike for a story that is close to my heart. The tentacles needed a reason, though.
As i was thinking (daydreaming) about the draft, my brain picked up the memory of a recent draft shared in my writer's group. One of our members is skilled at using a kind of fairy-tale rhythm and this, combined with my own ideas about my beginning, brought me to the Tollbooth. One of the great things about this story is the way that the author limns an initially unlikeable character and yet doesn't lose the reader. In the beginning Milo is bored and restless in that annoying manner of someone who could be diverted but is too lazy to make the effort. By the end, you are feeling Milo's regret at his journey's end and regret at leaving Milo's company. Along the way, you encounter creatures that are the essence of fairy--language made fanciful and dizzy until you are caught in the spin.
I think I need to lose myself in that spin again to find out what path my story needs to take--it isn't yet twirling fast enough to cohere. I am already in the fratchetty, diverted-by-shiny-Internets mode, it's time to make the effort to steer this draft into the swirl.