I’ve put up a first chapter of a story, tentatively titled ‘The Dragon And The Stone’. I don’t yet have all of the story firmly in mind, but I know most of the salient details. The first chapter was sort of an experiment; I wanted to see if I could write a couple of characters who have longstanding unresolved sexual tension, without doing any information dumps about it or otherwise making the story painful to read — and also without resolving it.
The reason I don’t have all of the story firmly in mind is this. In my initial outline, it was all about Sigurd and his hero’s journey, the dragon, and, without giving too much away, the dragon’s hostage. I had decided that Sigurd would be abandoning his farm, by way of giving the reader some insight into his character and destructive arc, before, halfway through actually writing the first chapter, I realized that he’d be giving it to the servant girl. Hilde was originally conceived as a very minor character whose presence signified mainly home and comfort, the life a hero has to leave behind when setting out on the journey. Her rejection by Sigurd was supposed to reveal to the reader his self-destructive habit of seeking to protect those he cares about by pushing them away, denying his own emotions and needs. Now, having actually written the first chapter, I see that there might be a really good story involving Hilde and her own hero’s journey.
She’s a younger, more naïve character than Sigurd. Sigurd is an older veteran, cynical and haunted by the past, seeking resolution or redemption, whereas Hilde is the youth thrown unknowing into a chaotic world, seeking to survive, and, just possibly, seeking for her true love. And, for all his own protestations and ridiculous attempts to protect her, that happens to be Sigurd. Of course both of their quests lead inevitably to the Dragon. After that I don’t know, because Sigurd is on a self-destructive journey and success in his quest would most likely be the end of his story, whereas Hilde is on a constructive journey and success in her quest would likely be more the beginning of hers.
I have never written an illiterate character before. Oh, I’ve written characters who don’t read during the story, and I’ve written stories where writing is never mentioned — but to have a character in a setting where writing becomes relevant to the story, who isn’t a literate character, is a new experience for me. The choice, of course, is my attitude toward it. I can focus on the constraints, or treat them as opportunities.
That’s the great thing about adversity as a writer; rather than groaning about what you can’t do with a particular character, or you can make it the character’s problem instead of yours and gleefully use it to torment them. Much of writing is sublimated sadism. Good stories are not generally written about people who are having a good time. As CJ Cherryh once said over a cup of tea, whenever you don’t know what to do, ask yourself how to make main character wind up writhing in pain.