It’s hard to be both a writer and a perfectionist. I’m writ(h)ing a story now tentatively titled “The Stone Speaker’s Wife” and it’s about a tribe or town of people that exist in your typical fantasy world. Part medieval Europe, party mythological creation. The trouble that I’m having is that the tribe/town itself doesn’t have a secure context.
You can see in just the description what I’m struggling with. Are these people, the Stone Speaker’s people, the People of the Stones sedentary and agrarian or are they transient hunter gatherers? I don’t know. I don’t know whether I should draw from the medieval township model, in which their subsistence farmers paying tithe to the monarch, the wandering gypsy model of a roving band of rootless people within the blurry confines of the monarchy or scrap the entire monarchy entirely and have a wilder, more primitive land where people haven’t invented long-reaching government yet, and exist more like early Icelanders with bands of families determining the “law” within boundaries that are constantly in argument. (I realize that this discredits a lot of the law giving that the Icelanders did, what with their early adoption of parliament and all, but it wasn’t a monarchy and the towns/families were, for the most part, self-governing and somewhat lawless, the law coming into play when a blood-price had to be paid for someone that was killed, the law not having prevented the killing in the first place.)
What’s hard about this decision is that it is incredibly far reaching and determines a bunch of minute details, from the way they dress, the buildings they live in, the food they eat, the medicines they make, the magic they create, their rites and rituals. All of the minute details that we take for granted in our lives have long before been determined before we “decide” to take them on as daily rituals. Those details are due in large part to our styles of government, food supply, military, monetary system, and a thousand other things.
This is what I’m not good at as a writer, Making the Decision. I do my best to let the story flow out of me, and when I hit a snag like this it makes it very hard to me; so hard, in fact that I often just let the story/idea drop rather than doing the difficult work of hashing it out, because the details are sticky and seemingly endless, and I often feel at the end of the day that I’ve been rolling around in cobwebs and need a good hot shower. That is not what I consider an enjoyable afternoon, but I suppose the lawn doesn’t mow itself and the weeds don’t pull themselves and these details, much as I would prefer them to, won’t work themselves out.
I know at least that the people are rooted to a specific landmark, where the first major scene takes place. It’s a group of standing stones, menhirs, stone henges. Call them what you like. The wedding between the Stone Speaker (essentially the shaman of the People of the Stones) and the 15-year-old girl takes place there. The stones are a sacred site to the people, essentially containing all of the divine power of their ancestry. Now, if they’re a tribal people, they come back to the stones on the solstices and have their festivals there, possibly on the equinoxes as well. If they’re sedentary agrarians then they live nearby and come out for major festivals. I guess what I’m realizing as I write this is that it doesn’t matter which one I choose, but being who I am I feel that there’s a right answer, and that if I don’t choose the right answer the story won’t be perfect, will be fundamentally flawed in some way, visible to everyone, and it will have been a waste of my time. I feel that there’s some secret detail hiding from me, and that if I only think long enough I’ll be able to find it. Once that detail is discovered all of the rest of the pieces will fall neatly into place, and the story will be perfect and obvious to everyone else, and people will stand around scratching their heads wondering why they hadn’t written such an obvious and beautiful story.
That way of feeling about a story, and writing in general, doesn’t give me a lot of power. It puts the power in some secret, mystical ether that I have to grope through (spiderwebs?) in order to attain some divinely ordained perfection. In reality the course that would be most fruitful to take is to layout the likelihoods of both possibilities and see which one most closely matches the vision I have of these people and their story. Then, eventually, I have to decide. I have to choose one option and let the other one fall away. That takes a discipline that I’m not comfortable with. I often fret with decisions that I make, worrying that the decision I’ve made will be the wrong one. It causes me a lot of anxiety in situations where I don’t know either what the right answer is or what my predilection is. I can stand making a “wrong” decision if I know why I’m making it. I can stand choosing Chris Paul over Kobe Bryant for NBA MVP, even though I know the likelihood of Paul being chosen at this point is slim. I know what my definition of valuable is and I know that Paul fits it (though Bill Simmons makes an excellent argument for why Kevin Garnett most fundamentally fits the description, more than even Paul does).
It’s only when I don’t know what I want, nor what the right answer is that things become anxiety-ridden. I don’t know why, don’t know where this comes from, but I’m often more comfortable with potential than I am with actuality. I much prefer savoring the moment when all options are open to me than I do having firmly grasped one to the exclusion of all others. In other words, I have a hard time with commitment. It’s hard for me to say that this is what this all boils down to. It was a lot more noble when I was struggling with mystical variables hovering over me in the ether. It sounded much more high-brow to be cogitating divinely ordained plot points than it does to say that I’m just having a hard time committing to one story line over the other. And maybe that romance is part of it. Maybe I prefer dealing with the romance of wrestling with God rather than clichéd commitment issues. I can buy that. I guess now that I’ve cut that balloon loose there’s only one thing left to do, and that’s write the story.