Lately I’ve been looking at the draft of a novel that I should be working on but am not yet ready to pick up again. I pull it up every now and then and read a passage here, a scene there, just to reassure myself that it still exists in my mind. I’ll get to it more seriously this year, I’m pretty sure, but in the meantime I’m just sort of breathing in its energy, assessing where it trips along nicely, flagging the places where it seems to fold in on itself or run out of steam. In a way, I’m stepping back and letting my mind sort it out on its own without consciously trying too hard at the moment.
Stories so often advance by means of a pulsing of energy–back and forth between emotional points along the storyline. When those moments of shifting energy lead one to another, like darkness to daylight to darkness again, the story also seems to move. When they merely happen in sequence, and aren’t emotionally connected, it can feel episodic, as if it lacked a throughline, as if it were not about anything other than its events.
If I let myself step back and look at my story in this way I can prepare myself to gut the scenes that drain the energy from the story. That in turn will give me room to grow new material with different feelings or moods, with actions that build energy where that’s needed, or images and settings that sustain it.
All of which is really about structure. Only when I think too directly about structure–say in the Aristotleian sense–my head begins to hurt. Instead, give me pulses of energy, positive and negative space, emotional direction. With those concepts in hand, I can fool myselfinto contemplating structure–minus the headache.