Storyteller’s whispers

Storyteller is a tease. Storyteller whispers in the writer’s ear, makes promises, leads the writer on… and then goes silent.

There are basically two ways to approach a book.  For some, Storyteller speaks in advance, clearly laying out the book’s logical sequence, opening hook to ending coda.

For others, like myself, a book is an ongoing conversation with Storyteller: if this, then that; if her, then him.  Take the book I’m writing at the moment.  I’m at about the three-quarter mark of the first draft—the stage at which the writer really ought to know what her story is all about.  The stage at which the non-outlining writer like me begins to get nervous, in case Storyteller goes silent.Valley view

From the beginning, certain elements of this story have been given.  First, it takes place in Japan and in Oxford.  Second, it’s about—well, no, I don’t think I’ll drop a spoiler on you, but there’s a young woman involved.  And as I was writing, certain elements crept in—the sorts of things that I allow free rein since I can always hand them their pink slip in the rewrite.

Basho poetry, sure—this is Japan.  However, why is Shakespeare elbowing his way into a book about Japan?  What do Henry IVa, IVb, and V have to do with spies?  Not much, on the face of things—but there they are, attractive bits of prose by themselves but with little reason, and a puzzling lack of relationship to the rest of the story.  I keep coming back to them, thinking about them, walking around to look at them from various perspectives.  Wondering why Storyteller has decided to put them in.

Because unlike my Crime & Thriller Writing co-author Michelle Spring, what I write is based on the whispers from the back of my mind.  I could say that after a score of books, I have learned to trust the voice, but this is the way I worked from the beginning.

That doesn’t make it any easier when I’m at the three quarter mark with many weeks of work behind me and a deadline pressing in—and only a vague idea of an ending that isn’t one I’ve used three times before.

Fortunately for this book, a day of enforced distance from writing intervened.  Then a second.  Said deadline was getting ever closer, while my 1500-a-day stint was lapsing once, then twice…

But sometimes, Storyteller needs a reboot to be heard.  Late on that first day, as I am turning from one thing to another, a chunk of Eureka! drops down on me, rending my conversation a bit distracted while my brain scrambles after the realizations:  So that’s why the Shakespeare—and this event, which means that’s where they’re all headed.

Inevitably, by the second morning, my mind having had a night to chew on it, the complaints begin: But why this?  And really, that’s not terribly interesting…

So Storyteller whispers again, delivering a lightning bolt straight to my brain.  I drop my toothbrush to stare in the mirror: if I just flip this to that

And there it is: an ending that is both logical and emotionally satisfying.  The kind of ending that leaves a smile on the face.  What is more, as I begin to pick it over, I see for the first time how all these oddments have in fact been sitting and waiting for Storyteller’s unifying revelation.  Shakespeare because of that; Oxford rather than Sussex or London because of this; the young woman’s father and her time in America and even her moment of inexplicable clumsiness because—yes.  One minute I’m sitting at my workbench staring at an untidy heap of gears and springs and levers; the next, there’s a magnificent timepiece, ticking quietly away.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that one year, Storyteller will have the sulks.  That I won’t have listened to the still, small voice in the back of my mind, but instead just shoveled in a variety of shiny and ultimately mismatched parts.

And of course, having the paradigm for Dreaming Spies doesn’t mean I don’t have a ton of work in front of me.  I not only have to actually shape the words and acts of the last section of the book, I will then have to go back and nudge every preceding scene from what I thought was happening to what is in fact happening.

So you will excuse me if I go and get started on it.


  1. Merrily Taylor on January 21, 2014 at 10:50 am

    Well NOW you have aroused my interest…which was already pretty over the top to begin with! Too early to place a pre-order, is it?
    Go, Storyteller!

  2. Gloria Horton on January 21, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    I am one of your silent followers who pre-orders your books in both hardback and Kindle editions. Your kindness in sharing your world and your stories with us is always appreciated and treasured.

  3. Storyteller Mary on January 21, 2014 at 9:25 pm

    What fun to peek inside the process and how delightful to know others also “get lost” en route to clarity. Thanks for sharing this, and for all the good books!

  4. Sharon Persall on January 22, 2014 at 8:09 am

    It’s little wonder your mysteries are so compelling and satisfying. Your writing process sounds very much like a mystery. A clue here, a revelation there. Thank you for the insight and thank you for many years of enjoyment reading your work. I am patiently waiting for Dreaming Spies.

  5. The Bold Flying Officer on January 28, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    A fascinating glimpse … thank you. Your Storyteller is obviously more persistent than mine … but, please, Laurie. It is Henry IV Part One and Henry IV Part Two, not IVa and IVb!!

    Mike – TBFO
    (who once played Bardolph to Scott Lidbetter’s Falstaff in Henry IV Part One at Bournemouth School in England in the late 1960s)

  6. Molly Wolf on February 10, 2014 at 1:49 am

    Beadstringer, like Storyteller, messes around with the bits, putting rhodochrondite next to onyx, saying “no” and reaching for a black freshwater pearl. When Beadstringer and the rocks have worked out what they want, I reach for my coil of tiger tail wire and the tools of my trade, and my fingers (however clumsy) slip on everything in its rightful order. But I’m just the fool who buys stash. The beads do the work of design.

  7. Vicki Saunders on February 23, 2014 at 9:30 pm

    I’ve been wondering if you would go back to pick up those few weeks in Japan where Russel and Holmes stopped over in between The Game and Locked Rooms. I’m guessing this may be it??

    • Laurie King on February 23, 2014 at 9:46 pm

      You’re right, this is the Japan book.

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