The surprising thing to me is how much of it was already in my head, despite never having written it, and not knowing it was there. I don't know how other people do it, but for me, writing is kind of like being a surgeon. You yell "Character!" or "Conflict!" or whatever and stick out your hand and something--the brain or the Muse or whatever--grabs something from the tray and slaps it into your hand, and you shove it into the gaping incision you've made in the page. Sometimes it's exactly what you need, and then again, sometimes you find you're trying to perform surgery with a rubber duck with a prolapsed squeaker. (Probably there's a story somewhere where exactly what you need is, indeed, a prolapsed rubber duck...)
All I knew about Nurk was that he was Surka's great-grandson, had a Snailboat, clean socks, and a cheese sandwich, and that at some point, he met the King of Dragonflies, and there was a job that the King needed done, which a big dragonfly was no good for, and needed a small shrew. Everything else was a kind of jumble. And yet, it's been drawn out as smooth as silk, no false starts, no subplots in need of excision, as soon as I set it down and wonder what happens next, I usually know before the day is out. And someone asked for this story! I am supposed to be doing it! The muse is being so perverse she's not actually being perverse at all, and that kinda freaks me out! I can only assume that this is because I should really, really, REALLY have been painting for Anthrocon, and so am trying desperately to get this story done before that, because the minute I have time to work on this story, I will probably find myself trying to gnaw each individual word out of the dictionary with my teeth.
The one thing I do know is that if you stick clean socks in the drawer in the first act, someone must wear those socks by the end of the play.
Or, er, something like that.
And now, because I'm an instant feedback junky, and this sort of thing is really hard for me--here's a small scene from the rough draft. (Since my agent has not yelled at me for posting anything on the internet, I'm going to assume that small chunks are still safe. If they aren't, then writing is just no damn fun.)
To explain, Nurk is approaching the lair of the enemy in his trusty Snailboat. His aunt Wilhelmina, who wears enormous hats covered in plastic fruit, once told him "Travel broadens the mind" which has kind of been his mantra throughout the story.
It was a little time later that the boat slowed, and slowed further, coming around the bend into a small harbor, deeply shadowed, among the roots of the mangrove trees.
“Is this it?” he asked himself, and then he saw movement overhead, and his mouth opened, and no words came out at all.
Hanging over the water, only a few feet away, was a tree full of fish.
The tree had leaves rather like a beech, but from each cluster, hanging from its tail like an apple might hang from a stem, was an enormous hookjawed salmon, twice the size of the white carp, capable of swallowing the Snailboat in three bites and a half. The faintest blush of red touched the silvery back of each fish. Their eyes were large and shiny, and all of them were fixed on Nurk.
Nurk could think of nothing to say.
The biggest salmon rolled its eyes and snapped its underslung jaw, and spoke.
“GO,” it said.
“A-“ said the next one.
“-WAY.” said a third one.
Nurk wanted, more than he had ever wanted anything in his life, more than he had ever wanted adventure or the Snailboat or hot oatmeal for breakfast, to turn the Snailboat around and do exactly as the salmon said.
But he didn’t. He thought of his great-grandmother Surka, the fierce warrior shrew, and knew that she wouldn’t have turned back. He thought of the sad King of Dragonflies, and silly Scatterwings, who were depending on him. And no matter how much he wanted to go home, he knew the young dragonfly prince probably wanted to go home much, more worse. “I can’t,” he whispered to himself, and then, a little louder, to the fish, “I can’t.” His voice shook terribly, and he was afraid the fish would notice.
The biggest one snapped its jaw again.
“HERE,” the fish said, one after another.
Nurk nodded miserably. The fish were right. It just didn’t matter that they were right.
He looked to the left and the right, and finally saw it—a little sheltered beach, hardly more than a muddy bank with a few more pebbles than usual, tucked behind two trees. Using one of his gingko oars, he steered the Snailboat in that direction.
The fish watched him, unblinking.
Finally Nurk leapt out, into water up to his waist, and beached the faithful Snailboat on the pebbly shore.
“This must be it,” he said to himself, looking around. “At least, I don’t see where else it could be…” He toweled himself off with his by now rather battered towel, and put on clean socks. He packed his raincoat and a sandwich and the pair of scissors, and then, with a sigh, put his very last pair of socks into his knapsack, slung it over his shoulder, and looked around at the Snailboat.
It was much harder than he expected to leave the little ship behind.
Nurk steeled himself, and set out.
He picked his way across the beach to the tree of fish, and looked up at them for a few minutes.
“Why are you in a tree?” he asked finally. “Shouldn’t you live in the water?”
The salmon made a shuddery, juddery motion with its jaw. Nurk jumped backwards, and realized after a moment that it was a fishy laugh.
When he got home, Nurk thought, he was going to tell Aunt Wilhelmina that she didn’t know the half of it.