Writing the Relief Valve

I got back to work on rewriting the ninth chapter of Shadow of the Black Tower this weekend, which you may recall from last week was giving me a hard time. It didn’t get any easier on Saturday, and greatly dissatisfied I stopped writing to do some deep thinking and track down the specifics that were setting-off my gut instincts that the story was stalling on this bridge to what I feel will be a really exciting climax and ending.

In order to fix the problems, I needed details beyond my emotional intuition to identify them. After thinking about it, I came to the conclusion that I’d built up the implied tension and danger to a point that it was now overbuilt and overstressed.

A key thing to keep in mind about Shadow is that it’s rooted in Gothic Horror like much of H.P. Lovecraft’s work is. There is definitely an influx of R.E. Howard style fantasy throughout — and his sense of action weighs in heavy for the end — but much of the story’s opening and build-up is about atmosphere and not wild physical action.

My plan was to follow that mold until the climax, and then bust-out the swords and sorcery to play off all the build-up and have a tense, memorable ending. I think I’ve done a good job in maintaining an increasing pressure-cooker of escalating tensions all the way into chapter nine… in fact, I think my problem is that I’ve done too good of a job: I’ve reached a point of “maximum pressure” before I’ve hit the story’s climax when I could release it all on the reader.

That loaded pressure is slowing the pace of the yarn to a slog, and my attempts to progress the story further by adding even more implied tension and danger are hitting that pressure cap. It’s stretching the suspension of disbelief too thin, and making developments along those lines feel forced and contrived.

What to do? Well, I think it’s time to open-up the relief valve and let it SCREAM and STEAM a little! Time for the implied tensions and dangers to become seen, and demonstrably real and urgent. ;-)

I brainstormed on the various options I could use, and decided over the course of Saturday afternoon that it was time for me to pull in the sword and sorcery aspects of this tale a bit more strongly and a bit earlier than I’d planned to have a good old fashioned, pre-climax monster fight with a horror twist! I had an idea right away for adding a new collective threshold guardian event that’s suitably Lovecraftian and challenging… and it will feature an original creation of mine that I’ve designed with an eye trying to be true to the mythos.

Then I got down to business, and wrote 1,300 words on Sunday. With them I dropped some new stakes on the table and raised others — again, a bit earlier than I had originally planned — and in the form of an argument between characters that really frames the disparity of power between them to the reader in a straight-up, non-roundabout way. After that confrontation, the stage is set for the coming clash with the exterior threat that will transpire next and move the story along in a direct and frantic way.

So it’s looking like this weekend should be a rip-roaring time as I wrap-up chapter nine, and write a big fight in ten that will chase the characters all the way to the doors of the climax. :-)

Have a great week everyone, and keep writing!

~Jason H. Abbott.

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