I’ve recently come back to a project and it got me thinking about the evolution of ideas and how we can make them better (or worse) as you turn them over in your mind.
The idea I’ve come back to is Add Brimstone To Taste which I have mentioned before (a good while ago now) as I attempted to plan it, to write it a number of times. Every time I got a decent way into the first draft (anything from 10,000 – 35,000 words) and just came up short – there was always something that wasn’t working with the idea and I just stalled. The final document I have on the project before I put it on hiatus is saved as ‘Add Brimstone to Taste Mk. 5.5’ so even 5 versions in something still wasn’t working.
I came back to my notes recently and whilst sifting through them I caught one of the empty pages that I reserved for a new plan for Add Brimstone To Taste and it got me thinking.
Why did my other drafts not work? What could I do to make it work and give it another shot?
To understand these I asked myself what made me excited for the project in the first place, why did I want to write it, why did I go through almost 6 different versions before I put it down? And it came back to the original premise before I started planning:
A demon soldier who wants to be a baker.
That was it.
No massive end-of-the-world plot, no magical artefacts that need recovering, no prophecies that need to be fulfilled. Just a character who wants something incongruous.
That’s the crux of it; my excitement was at a pretty basic level so when I started the project and as I started planning or drafting I added more and more layers which distorted what I loved about the idea.
The first time I wrote something for it the story was about a restaurant that the demon-soldier-baker had in the mortal world and would serve (sometimes accidentally) magical food with unintended consequences. For example the first time I typed something the jist was that he would serve an apple pie that instilled a great lust in the mortals who consumed it (with hopefully hilarious consequences). This was no good because there the conflict of the original premise is already resolved; he is already a baker (well I guess chef in this instance), the conflict in any stories told here would be something different something that the character (at least in my mind) wasn’t ready for and hadn’t earned.
The latest version was distorted almost beyond recognition and certainly by the end it was beyond enthusiasm: the protagonist demon was a burly mountainous fighter as part of an elite squad and had collected his cooking utensils during conquests on behalf of the Demon Princes of Hell. He ran away from his responsibilities to the Mortal Realm to try his hand at baking but it all became a bit of a mess when he got up there (both within the story and in terms of what I’d planned out) and all I knew was that I loved the idea of him ending up taking part in a baking competition in a village fete.
Both of the versions above are decent stories (and I’d pick them up if they were done well) but not the story I wanted to tell. For the first version I’d let it become distorted by urban fantasy tropes of having it in the real world but the characters weren’t deep enough and the setting became too big and then for the last version I’d let it become distorted with an epic fantasy lens and the image of the character evolved and escalated beyond what I felt comfortable with. The hulking beef-cake soldier wasn’t quite what I had originally imagined when I came up with the idea but I got caught up in the usual epic fantasy sweep and there he was; in the image of Terry Crews and determined to get some flapjack.
Another one of the reasons that the latter version above wasn’t up to snuff was that I wasn’t comfortable with short-form fiction so I was determined to make the story stretch to ~75,000 so the story became bloated as I was throwing things in to make up the word count.
But I’ve read some Tor novellas recently and combined with a few more short stories this year I’ve just generally become a lot more comfortable with the idea of works that walk the space between Novel and Short Story.
So now I’m back at the starting line and ready to write a smaller, almost slice-of-life, story that tells the tale of the (pretty poor) demon soldier who turns out to be a pretty good baker.