Nalo Hopkinson on the writing process


Some of the coolness:

A few years ago, I perceived that my stories felt stronger and more satisfying to me when most of the key elements showed up twice. I mean something more complex than that, but I sense it as shape and motion, and I haven’t yet hit upon a way to adequately describe it. Lessee: the two (or more) occurrences of the same element need to be separated by verbiage, i.e. the first shows up roughly near the beginning of the novel, and the second roughly near the end. It’s good if the second occurrence makes the reader suddenly flash back to the first occurrence, see it and other aspects of the novel in a new light, and have an ‘aha!’ moment about something key to the novel. I try to make it so that the reader can connect the dots and the picture takes clearer shape with each connection they’re able to make. I guess I’m saying that the first occurrence sets the thread of an element into the weave of the story, and the final one ties it in. Or ties it off, or something. But when I was beginning to write fiction, although I got the information “tie off most of your plot threads” over and over, and although it made sense on a conceptual level, it was a cold knowledge. It finally het up and got exciting for me when I could sense it kinetically, body-deep. At first it was mostly haphazard. At some point I’d remember an attention-getting element that I had put into the story near its beginning, and if I hadn’t done something with it before the story ended, I’d find something for it to do. No use creating something tasty, only to have it use up its work day by sitting in the lunch room, bored out of its skull, twiddling its thumbs. Usually it’s pretty easy to find something for that plot element to do; something neat to resolve a troublesome aspect of the story that I’d been trying to bury under the rug and hope no-one would notice. Because (it eventually occurred to me), if it didn’t have some good work to contribute to the project of bringing the story home, then why was it there? God, I’m starting to sound like lines from a Yoda monologue when I talk about this. Feel the Force, Luke. In other words, start recognizing that the moment when I lift my light saber and swing it at your butt is probably going to have a result at the other end of the swing if you don’t take steps to intervene.

In any case, I can now do a lot of the connecting the thigh bone to the knee bone actively instead of by accident. I don’t tie off every plot thread; leaving some unfinished business gives the feeling that the characters go on living their lives and working their shit out after you close the book. It helps the story feel “real.” I just worked that out this moment, seconds before I wrote it down.


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