The trouble with writing complicated stories is that they quickly run away with you. The details start to overshadow the narrative and can easily confuse the reader (and the writer!). One begins to see only the trees and not the forest. Still trickier is making sure all of those details make sense and crucially deciding which details to leave out. Me, I tend to minimize rather than leave out, a storytelling flaw I hope to overcome one day, and I really only decide to do that after exhaustively rereading the manuscript until me head spins. Also, some details need only to be revealed certain places, so sometimes I have to go back and remove prior references to them.
In fantasy in particular critics are always on about “world building,” but for readers who just want a good story it is a turn off to read too-detailed descriptions of how this fantasy world operates. I’ve found generally in using magic in a story it’s best not to explain too thoroughly how the magic works. Magic isn’t logical, so it’s going to be difficult to explain it logically and then one starts leading the reader down a path of fitting that magic into the real world, which can’t be done, or at least can’t be explained. Going as far as saying magic words or employing certain hand movements, etc., as in Harry Potter is about as far as one can really go in explaining it. In TfD I mostly explain the magic by a creature using dust and then concentration and/or willing something into being. It is a bit vague, but I find it works for the story and is much tied to the Christian idea of creation, so that picture will hopefully be in the readers’ minds as an example. For myself, I don’t mind the magic working being left a bit vague, though I do need to work at highlighting the limits of Etherland magic. Will I leave that for this book or the next one? A good question to think about on the weekend.
Right now I’m organizing a lot of players, both “real world” and “show world,” for the disappearing act finale. Have a few traitors to manage also. That’s gotten a bit ridiculous, so I might just go with that – quintuple agents and beyond! Sometimes the piratical Jack Sparrow fan in me gets the best of me, the writer.
I think it was Stephen King who said something about writers not inventing stories, but unwrapping stories already there. That is how I feel about Trolls for Dust. It was this whole, gigantic, complicated story just waiting for me to start unwrapping it. Some of the paper is sticking, but little by little I’m stripping it away to the goodness underneath.