Tag Archives: writing

An author’s messy mind

The eternal question: “Where do you get the ideas to everything you write in your books?”… We can never quite answer it, can we? At least I can’t, not off the top of my head. But today, as a special treat as I kick off my blog again (yay! streamers and party horns!), I’m going to give it a serious try. I’m going to go through a whole page of a fanfic I wrote last summer and tell you all about my inspiration for it!

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First, the section I’m going to dissect. We’re on a battle field where God and Satan are fighting it out for the wooing rights of humanity, but our heroes (Papa and Special) are just unwitting pawns in the celestial battle – as they’re about to become aware…

Orange-tinted clouds roil overhead. Bats and ravens circle the swaying silhouettes of trees. Dust swirls in dense pillars, and bright patches of light appear and disappear on the helmets of soldiers. Sparks fly from clashing swords, and the air reverberates with thunder and the whizzing of spears.

All the church bells across the globe are tolling. Every tower of prayer is echoing with proclamations, every cymbal, every drum that calls its disparate congregations together are resounding in an unsupervised cacophony. Nobody at the helm, no one to keep the pace. Voices like choirs, like the dead howling in Hades. The clash of weapons and shields, it’s a din never heard. The air quivers with sulphur and salt, with smoke and blood.

Papa stumbles over the fallen, sword heavy in his hand. Back to back with Special, he parries the blows from monster-faced angels bearing down on them, keening blades flickering with celestial fire. Around them, demons release their giant ballistas to send iron arrows zinging through the sky, ripping through feather and fabric. Bows are smashed, wings are torn. The angels nock and release at a furious pace, slicing through demon skin, spearing their bleeding husks into the ground.

Zhiiinggg, one sharp arrowhead slices Special’s arm, and blood wells from a superficial wound. He clutches it, face contorted by exhaustion and pain, and Papa grabs him by the lapel, an echo of the ritual – how safe and fake that moment was compared to this! “You need to keep your feet. You need to be prepared when –”

He gets no further. A sound reverberates over the hills, and the air brightens to the point of blindness. They raise their arms and shield their eyes, but this is no earthly light that can be so easily warded off. It is a light that shrieks, a sound that descends in a searing halo – the electric storm that once brought the God-seed from heaven to hearth, from the clouds to close quarters, impregnating the very first victim of their creed. The Holy Ghost.

Papa has the time to see dismay shatter Special’s face – there is no way he can defeat that, ordinary man that he is. Now, in this moment, he realizes that the devotion he’s known means nothing. The swaying hands in auditoriums, the raptured faces – they may have seen otherworldly power in him, but he’s still a mortal, still a mere earthly soul with a penetrable husk, and the Holy Ghost is pure aether. Its gaze incinerates, its breath corrodes.

He’s defenceless against it.

A giant wolf comes bounding out of the light, the Devil himself on its back. “I’ll take you to him.” He grabs Papa by the scruff of his neck and pulls him up. Wait, Papa tries to scream, but the wind stops the sound. His throat fills to bursting, his protest a chokehold of air.

Special…

He turns and looks at him, at his minuscule form receding behind them. Alone, a puny blade in his hand, the Holy Ghost descending on him in sparks of white and blue. This is his moment, this is his chance, but it will be his last.

And Papa has his own enemy to defeat. The battlefield rushes past, death and destruction a mere red blur. The Devil drops him off on a desolate spot, far from the fighting. “Make me proud.” The sword is fitted anew into Papa’s hand, the vow is spoken. The time has come to fulfil his mission – but why? Special won’t be there when he’s done.

This is the end of his tether.

Turning heavily, he stands face to face with the Son.

“And so we have come to this.” It’s a sigh on the wind, barely a voice at all. It’s the weariness of eons in auditive form, and the brown eyes in that well-known face are tired beyond resignation.

Okay. Let’s look at the thought process behind all this. I’ll repost bits and pieces and comment after them:

Orange-tinted clouds roil overhead. Bats and ravens circle the swaying silhouettes of trees. Dust swirls in dense pillars, and bright patches of light appear and disappear on the helmets of soldiers. Sparks fly from clashing swords, and the air reverberates with thunder and the whizzing of spears.

The whole description of the battle – and indeed the idea to have a battle between heaven and hell in the first place (you know, apart from the Bible…) – is based on a vague memory of the battle in The Amber Spyglass, the final book in the Golden Compass series. But I sort of felt something was missing there, so I wanted to make my own version. And I did!

All the church bells across the globe are tolling. Every tower of prayer is echoing with proclamations, every cymbal, every drum that calls its disparate congregations together are resounding in an unsupervised cacophony. Nobody at the helm, no one to keep the pace.

Since the fic is based on a band, music and sounds play a big part in the imagery too. Here the context is also religious, hence the church bells etc. The idea is that the world has been abandoned by both God and Satan. As if they’re conductors of a global orchestra but have left it to set both pace and harmony by itself. So I guess it’s my childhood, spent/misspent in concert halls, that gave me the inspiration.

Voices like choirs, like the dead howling in Hades.

Haha, “the dead howling in Hades”… that was nicked verbatim from an early review of a Rush concert. I don’t support the sentiment, but the alliteration and the imagery work.

The air quivers with sulphur and salt, with smoke and blood.

More alliteration. Sometimes I just like the feel of words. Of course, sulphur and smoke is pretty straightforward Hell stuff, but salt got included because it makes me think of sweat. Also it refers back to an earlier part of the story where Papa and Special “embrace in salt and blood”. I’ll leave you to your deductions…

Papa stumbles over the fallen, sword heavy in his hand.

This is Shakespeare’s Henry V – specifically Branagh’s version where the English king struggles through the mud with heavy armour and weapons, seeing his soldiers and boys fallen.

Back to back with Special, he parries the blows from monster-faced angels bearing down on them, keening blades flickering with celestial fire. Around them, demons release their giant ballistas to send iron arrows zinging through the sky, ripping through feather and fabric.

Ripping through feather – that’s an image from Elfquest, where a winged elf’s wing is penetrated by a thick arrow… actually now I think about it, the whole scene here is probably inspired by the Elfquest battle for the palace of the High Ones. I didn’t realize that until now! Even the back to back fighting is from those scenes.

Bows are smashed, wings are torn. The angels nock and release at a furious pace, slicing through demon skin, spearing their bleeding husks into the ground.

Here the angels have taken archery lessons from Legolas in The Two Towers – he was pretty deft with that bow. 🙂 The demons are basically orcs in my mind… and their skin is like charred sausages.

Zhiiinggg, one sharp arrowhead slices Special’s arm, and blood wells from a superficial wound. He clutches it, face contorted by exhaustion and pain, and Papa grabs him by the lapel, an echo of the ritual – how safe and fake that moment was compared to this! “You need to keep your feet. You need to be prepared when –”

The onomatopoeic sound of the arrow is another Elfquest thing, or comic books/graphic novels in general, but Elfquest specifically is my jam. 🙂

He gets no further. A sound reverberates over the hills, and the air brightens to the point of blindness. They raise their arms and shield their eyes, but this is no earthly light that can be so easily warded off.

The Two Towers again, and Gandalf arriving at the top of the hill – but here a bit more sinister and also influenced by… what? I’m unsure. A blinding, evil light… Actually I don’t know where that comes from. Another film?

It is a light that shrieks, a sound that descends in a searing halo

The idea to blur the lines between the senses comes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “I see a voice: now will I to the chink / To spy an I can hear my Thisby’s face.” But this specific image is also taken from Jonna Jinton, who once described the bright light in hotel bathrooms as “screaming in her eyes”.

– the electric storm that once brought the God-seed from heaven to hearth, from the clouds to close quarters, impregnating the very first victim of their creed.

Here the priority was to create alliteration and tweak existing phrases like “heaven and earth” to be slightly different, and also to turn the idea of the blessed virgin on its head.

Papa has the time to see dismay shatter Special’s face – there is no way he can defeat that, ordinary man that he is. Now, in this moment, he realizes that the devotion he’s known means nothing. The swaying hands in auditoriums, the raptured faces – they may have seen otherworldly power in him, but he’s still a mortal, still a mere earthly soul with a penetrable husk, and the Holy Ghost is pure aether. Its gaze incinerates, its breath corrodes.

This is inspired by the film Frost/Nixon, where Jack Brennan says: “Well, in boxing, you know, there’s always that first moment, and you see it in the challenger’s face. It’s that moment that he feels the impact from the champ’s first jab. It’s kind of a sickening moment, when he realizes that all those months of pep talks and the hype, the psyching yourself up, had been delusional all along. You could see it in Frost’s face. If he didn’t know the caliber of the man that he was up against before the interview started, he certainly knew it halfway through the President’s first answer.”

A giant wolf comes bounding out of the light, the Devil himself on its back.

This is lifted from a Ghost song, Mummy Dust: “I was carried on a wolf’s back, to corrupt humanity.”

“I’ll take you to him.” He grabs Papa by the scruff of his neck and pulls him up. Wait, Papa tries to scream, but the wind stops the sound. His throat fills to bursting, his protest a chokehold of air.

Have you ever ridden on a rollercoaster? That’s the feeling I’m trying to convey here. I can’t breathe at those speeds, so that very physical sensation is the basis of this description.

He turns and looks at him, at his minuscule form receding behind them. Alone, a puny blade in his hand, the Holy Ghost descending on him in sparks of white and blue. This is his moment, this is his chance, but it will be his last.

My mental image here was a typical fantasy novel cover, where the tiny hero with his sword faces an overpowering enemy: a dragon, a balrog…

And Papa has his own enemy to defeat. The battlefield rushes past, death and destruction a mere red blur. The Devil drops him off on a desolate spot, far from the fighting. “Make me proud.” The sword is fitted anew into Papa’s hand, the vow is spoken. The time has come to fulfil his mission – but why? Special won’t be there when he’s done.

Somehow soldiers in films always end up away from the hubbub so we can hear and see properly, don’t they? And I’m not one to change a winning concept.

This is the end of his tether.

Of course, the phrase “end of your tether” is a commonplace, but I took it (and the connotations it carries for me) from Night of the Iguana by Tennessee Williams, with its symbolically tethered iguana. That play is the reason why I remember the phrase at all. Not that I understood much of it – I was maybe fifteen and saw a great production with Frances Barber – but I was a bit young to get all the subtext, I think. No matter: some things stick anyway.

“And so we have come to this.” It’s a sigh on the wind, barely a voice at all. It’s the weariness of eons in auditive form, and the brown eyes in that well-known face are tired beyond resignation.

The sigh on the wind comes from the final film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, where the army of the dead are released from their vow and vanish on the air…

So there you have it. A lifetime of media consumption, sprinkled with a couple of personal experiences. That’s what makes a novel – or in this case a fanfic.

My personal beauty standards

This post and the links in it contain advertisements for my book.

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Don’t judge a book by its cover? Ha! Well, I’m not strong enough not to. Not when I choose what to read, and certainly not when I choose my future husband (been there, done that). Longish hair and a leather jacket had me at hello, but that’s another story for another day. Suffice it to say that I have my own personal beauty standards, like a stain on my moral compass, and it won’t come out for love nor money.

The above picture sums them up pretty nicely – and don’t kid yourself about the turtle neck: it’s not optional!

I drew the picture for a course book in French that I once wrote and never got to use, but I still have the picture. Funnily enough, when I saw it again today I thought of Michael Vaughan of Pax fame. Now, he wouldn’t agree with me because he thinks he’s hideous, but if he was I wouldn’t be writing about him, would I? Especially not passages like this:

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Jamie’s hair swung in time with the music, a few strands sticking to his temples. Green and gold stage lights flitted in and out of his vision. Everything on the stage glowed: brass, steel, cufflinks, white shirts, even gold. Michael was chained to his harpsichord as usual, but when their eyes met, it felt like they were just inches apart. As Jamie lost himself in that lion tawny colour, the world came loose from its moorings and floated around in a shimmery mess.

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Shimmery mess? Yeah, that would be me. And look, I know Michael doesn’t actually exist, in that boring, concrete sort of way we call real. But if I’m to write about a character, they have to exist for me. If another character falls in love with them, I have to fall as well. Otherwise, how could I know how they’d feel when evening sunlight pierces amber eyes?
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“There.” Michael struck a match and Jamie started at the tiny explosion between his fingers. The flame leapt up and quickly ate its way through the dry bark and twigs. Shaken, Jamie watched Michael as he watched the fire grow. The setting sun painted his face and hair in copper shades, and when he looked up, his eyes burned with an elusive lion tawny colour.

Thiiiis is weird

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But it’s kinda shallow, I know that. To allow yourself to hold one type of appearance above all others. Still, don’t we all? And I comfort myself with the thought that we all like different things. A friend of mine likes bald men, for example, whereas I fall in love with the hair before I fall in love with the actual person (again, hubby being the prime example).

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And Michael is cute. He is. Jamie is charming, so he can get away with scruffiness and goofy grimaces and stringy, unwashed hair. But Michael has this ethereal quality that “might not beteem the winds of heaven / Visit [his] face too roughly” (Hamlet 1.2.144). If that sounds oddly feminine, I guess it is. I do like my men androgynous. Sensitive. Vulnerable. Pensive.

In a word, musicians. 😀

Not many need apply. Hubby asked me while we were binge-rewatching Game of Thrones which one of all the characters I found to be “the bee’s knees” (sic!), and I still haven’t come up with a reply. Some are interesting, others are charming and fun, and yet others have symmetrical features that I guess would qualify for western hemisphere heartthrobdom. But me? Nah. Most leave me cold. Yes, even Jon Snow.

Rival Poet AReBut when I do find a face I like, I get a whole book out of it. Or, in the case of Pax, a whole series! And so Sam Claflin inspired All You Can Eat, Ricky Wilson (yes, I’m admitting it!) was the template for Henrik in The Seventh Flower, and Ian McNabb (even bigger splash there, I’m really having an overly honest day!) will forever be my very own Kit Marlowe in Rival Poet.

And while we’re on the topic, I know I should be working on (the newly christened, yay!) Chains of Being (I’m keeping schtumm about that one, by the way, because I don’t want a defamation case to cut my career short, and anyway I’m changing absolutely everything about the two guys before hitting ‘publish’ so no one’ll ever know), but I have a messy old WIP about a PhD student that’s slowly morphing to accomodate Robson Green and Ben Mendelsohn! Just imagine the shy and lonely professor with Asperger’s whose world is turned upside down by a sloppy upstart who wears flip-flops to the office! Mmm… 🙂

So, shallow? Yup. But it’s a prerequisite for my authorhood.

Clickbait your book! ;)

Had some fun today imagining my books as clickbait articles. I urge my fellow authors to try it – at the very least, it’s an exercise that can narrow down the plot of a WIP or help you come up with those pesky blurbs.

This man met his celebrity crush at a party – but what happens next will melt your heart

10 things only bulimics will understand

Only one in 50 literature buffs can identify these 23 Shakespeare references. Can you?

Can we guess your favourite trope?

23 ways to say ‘I love you’ – the sixteenth one will make you cry

This is why you should never have a pretend relationship

5 behind-the-scenes problems musicians don’t want you to know about

He was a doormat for twenty-nine years – but you won’t believe what happens when they accuse him of this

Readers are freaking out over this gritty “romance”

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The dreamer in a world of rationals

This post and the links in it contain advertisements for my book

Christer isn’t a loner. He may look like one where he skulks at the fringes of every party and doesn’t talk to people unless he absolutely has to. But really, he’s not a loner. He would love to be with people. It’s just that in his experience, people don’t want to be with him.

If school and work and life in general has taught him anything, it’s that he doesn’t fit in. Not necessarily because of his bisexuality, but because he has the wrong hobbies, the wrong body, the wrong outlook on life. Even in his own family, he’s the odd one out. Where his parents and siblings are rational and down-to-earth, he’s an out-of-touch dreamer who can’t seem to settle down. Yes, he’s been married, and yes he has a job of sorts, but compared to his brother the academic and his sister the seamstress, he’s sort of… blurry. Unfocused. And worst of all: doomed to be disappointed.

Because that’s the fate of romantics in this world of overachievers: they can’t keep up, and the world can’t keep up with them. They wish for magic, for perfection, and the more mundane parts of life just don’t measure up.

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Maybe that’s why he’s so shaken when he meets Henrik. It’s not just the weird power balance of him secretly knowing who Henrik is, it’s also the scary thought that this man who Christer has been putting on a pedestal for a year won’t measure up either. It’s actually impossible: the golden persona Christer has projected on Henrik is too divorced from reality to result in anything but disenchantment.

So of course he stays away, right?

Wrong. When has Christer ever done the right thing? Even though he knows that he’ll only bore Henrik to tears with his lackluster conversation, he can’t stop talking to him, telling him stories about the history of his own family and the derelict village where they’re celebrating Midsummer’s Eve. It’s as if a door has been opened and there’s no stopping the wind from blowing right through the musty old house.

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It’s frightening. It’s dangerous. Even if Henrik could ever see anything of worth in Christer, there are just too many obstacles in the way of an actual relationship. And make no mistake, a relationship is what Christer is after. He’s not the one night stand type and he won’t settle for less than perfection.

So yeah, it’s doomed, because A) Henrik is a serial dater, B) he lives five hundred miles away, and C) Christer is pretty sure that he’s only ever dated women. Not that this necessarily means he’s not bisexual too, but why would Christer have such luck? He’s used to his boring life where nothing out of the ordinary ever happens.

But then again this is Midsummer’s Eve, and miracles can happen – if Christer only lets down his guard enough to believe in them.

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Fourteen years and counting

This post and some of the links in it contain advertisements for my books.

The fourth of July means a lot to some people, and I’m one of them. Because July 4, 2003 was when I met my nemesis – no, sorry, love of my life!

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Now I’m a complete romantic fool. Maybe that’s why I write romance books. But my idea of romance isn’t always that… uh, romantic.

You see, I’m an INTP, which is a personality type according to the Myers-Briggs typology system (if you’re unfamiliar with the MBTI, this is an awesome site for information on it). Anyway, INTPs tend to be unsentimental about things, or at least that’s the stereotype. Think Sheldon in Big Bang Theory (or so I’m told, I don’t watch it). INTPs love ideas and finding out how things work and logic and systems. Flowers and champagne? Not so much.

Yet here we are.

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Chin-chin!

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So what gives? How can this purple prose Angst Queen who photographs backlit flowers profess to be an INTP? Well, because the stereotype is a, how shall I put it? Stereotype. Yes, INTPs love systems and ideas, but that doesn’t mean they’re all mathematical geniuses. Ask my primary school teacher what my math book looked like. We had a meeting about it.

Because this particular INTP (pictured above with romantic interest, flowers, and champagne) is interested in human systems. Language. Psychology. Sociology. Physiology. The hard sciences are meh, but anything that helps me figure out what the hell makes people tick? Count me in.

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(Last Communion)

You can see this again and again – in a romantic context – in my books. In All You Can Eat, I explore not only the psychology behind eating disorders, but also the way we sometimes try to scare off people before we let them in: the old princess-guarded-by-a-dragon-of-her-own-making mechanism.

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In Not Safe For Work, the hurdle to overcome is other people’s expectations and not being allowed to make your own decisions because the script has already been written by other people. A mindfuck I really enjoyed torturing my poor boys with – especially because of the added breathless stress of having that script spreading like wildfire across social media!

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In Rival Poet, I go full INTP and have my protagonists find each other through their writing. Sometimes you can hardly separate their creative collaboration from their lovemaking – because that’s what makes it romantic from my point of view: working towards a common goal, admiring and enjoying each other’s talent and intelligence.

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The same goes for the Pax series, where play-writing is replaced with musicianship. During the long and arduous periods where Jamie and Michael are unable to talk to each other about their feelings, their music talks for them.

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So I guess this all sums up my view of romance. I’m a sucker for one-to-one-ness, for the concept of soulmates and the one person who understands and appreciates you. But I don’t have my characters yell “I love you, honey” at every possible moment, and I don’t think any of them has bought the other flowers or chocolate. The closest I ever get to a Hollywood moment is this type of confession from Rival Poet:

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!

When Kit spoke, his voice was the mere wisp of a sound. “You’re going to hate this,” he prefaced. “Or laugh at me. But…” He stopped to breathe, to gather his courage. “I’m in love with you, Will.”

Will froze. Stared into those hypnotising eyes, that unique golden colour. In love? His whole upbringing rebelled against the words. They didn’t make sense. Loving someone was one thing, but being in love… that was just possible when one of the two was a woman.

Only… when Kit said it, it did make sense. In the secrecy of this room, in the greyness of predawn, with just the two of them present to hear it, it made perfect sense.

Will breathed in. “If it’s something you can be,” he replied slowly, “Then… I am too.”

Well. I guess that is kind of mushy. But if you’re not allowed to be mushy about the kiss at the end of the rainbow, then what other opportunities are there really?

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Chucking the ballast

What are you carrying around that prevents you from picking up new things?

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If there’s one tip I should take to heart – not only as related to writing, but other stuff as well – it’s that sometimes in order to move forward you need to chuck things out. Even though you’ve put in a lot of work on them. I mean, I’ll keep snippets of deleted scenes for years, trying again and again to include them in new stories – and it never works, because the tone is off, or I’m not thinking through how the old scenes fit into the new timeline.

I know this, and yet I keep making the same mistake. I’m so loath to throw away things I’ve toiled over for hours and hours, but sometimes… you just have to. Put it down to a learning experience and move on.

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I don’t know why I don’t do this more often. I mean, I love writing, and yet it’s like I avoid writing by reusing old stuff. As if I can’t trust myself to come up with new words.

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Or is it just laziness? I don’t know. But today I came across an amazing writing tip on Tumblr that really spoke to my fetish for logical hierarchies, and I decided to try it out. START FROM SCRATCH for once, instead of trying to squeeze a stagnated WIP into a new structure and ending up with an even bigger mess than before.

So. I brought a pen and notebook into the garden and got to work the old-fashioned way. And after ten minutes or so I had to run inside and continue on my laptop, because my longhand couldn’t keep up with all the brand new ideas that kept popping into my head!

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At the end of the day I had an entire new novel mapped out, and it turns out that I can actually use minor scenes from one of those pesky WIPs in this new story. But the thing is that this time I started with the structure, with a departure and an arrival point that guided everything else, so when I use old material I know exactly where to put it for it to make sense in the dramaturgy instead of just cramming it in any old where.

Now, I won’t lie and say that structure is everything. It’s a tool that takes you some of the way, but not all the way. Sometimes you need to break the rules you’ve set up to move forward. The plot is a map that guides you, but sometimes you need to ignore the map for a while and trust the terrain. The whole process is like a pendulum that swings between structure and anarchy. Use the tool until you get stuck, then chuck the tool and improvise until you get stuck, etc.

That’s how you build a story.

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