I don’t mean writing is too easy, because it most certainly isn’t. Perhaps for others it is, though I don’t know if I’ve ever encountered a serious writer who has claimed it was. No, what’s too easy is the challenge facing my main character. Not in the overall quest, that’ll be hard enough, and long. It will take him to the very corners of the world. That conflict drives the story as a whole. What I’m referring to is the challenge facing the principle characters who must go from one place to another inside of a chapter.
The setting: A haunted road, seldom travelled in hundreds of years, over-grown and dangerous. This place should be filled with all manner of evil things. When I’d first written it, my characters simply left point A and made it, with little difficulty, to point B along this road. Only once they reach their destination do they encounter any sort of trouble, and it has nothing whatever to do with the haunted road. I didn’t start by thinking it was too easy. In fact, I started by thinking: ‘What purpose does any sort of encounter along this road serve? After all, one of these characters nearly died on the same road not three chapters back.‘
If it hadn’t been for such a big deal being made of the dangers along the road earlier in the book (there’s that word again – still feels like this story doesn’t deserve that label just yet), it might be that a brief account of getting from A to B might be adequate. However, that’s not the case, and even if I didn’t have this haunted road, I’d still have the threat of being caught by the ‘bad guy’. So, I really don’t have a choice but to add some sort of difficult situation along the road before they get to point B. It doesn’t matter that a major problem awaits the characters there. Having come to the conclusion I’ve got to add this bit anyhow, whatever I have these characters face needs to push the story forward in some way. I don’t think it should just be an interesting side-show (Although this can totally be done, and work well).
My approach, in this case, will aim to accomplish a few things. First off, the reader will be expecting the road to be bad, and when something horrible pops out of the woods, it’ll meet expectations. I will also be able to describe some seriously evil creatures, in action, which are referred to later. Meaning I don’t have to describe it in dialogue when I get to later, plus it will help with explanation of the difficulty the other character had, with less effort. The altercation should provide a platform for some explanation of history, though I’m going to limit this to prevent an information dump situation. Finally, I want it to help paint a picture for future events along the same road, especially if I’m in a position of describing any of those second hand.
Perhaps the main take-away for me in thinking about my current issue, and this rubber-ducking session to work it out, is every story has at least a few things along the path from A to B which weren’t essential to the telling. Those events exist because they happened along the way, and they’re interesting. After all, it’s a story good enough for the retelling because of the all of the crazy things that happened. Thinking about it from a purely story-teller perspective, the best stories you tell your friends always have something like: ‘And then J.D. got punched in the **** by a 10-year old right there in front of everyone.‘ Which may, or may not, be relevant to the key events of the story, but are present in the retelling just to illustrate the epic-ness of that story.