Chapter fifteen of Wallachia should be out tomorrow. I’ve said before that one of the hardest parts of getting a chapter ready is thinking up the reader poll question. When I started this project, I pictured the polls working in a few different ways. One, they’d be a way to get me out of a jam. If I couldn’t decide on which direction to take the story, I’d have the readers vote. Fun! Two, they’d keep me on my toes, forcing me to never write too far ahead, since upcoming events would depend on how the votes went.
Naturally I expected that sometimes there would be things I wouldn’t want to put up to a vote. The story is planned out all the way to the end. There’s stuff I don’t know yet—that’s what writing is—but the big stuff, I know. So whenever I get to the end of a chapter, I usually know where the next ones are going, at least generally. Chapter sixteen, for example, doesn’t have a lot of action in it. There’s just some stuff that happens in it that follows from where we’ve been and sets up where we’re going. It’s not like it has a place where you get to vote which character dies.
As I was writing fifteen, though, I came up with something great. It was going to end on a cliffhanger. A decision was going to be put before a character, and you, the reader, were going to vote on what that character decided. The consequences would matter and really would change a few things about what’s coming up. But then as I was writing it, I realized that one of the parties involved in that decision had *absolutely no motivation*—no reason to be in the situation I was setting up. I agonized over it. I sketched out the scene longhand. I typed it, deleted it, rewrote it, and ultimately just couldn’t make it work. So I scrapped it and rewrote the whole thing, which left me—again—with no idea what to put up for the reader poll.
If this were a different book, maybe I’d have every chapter end on a big cliffhanger for you to vote on, but it’s not. I’ve said before how I think often about what Stephen King says about how you have to let the story tell itself. It’s in charge, not you. So for me, that means pacing around the house for the better part of a day trying to clear my mind until the answer comes to me—which I liked doing more when I had the house to myself and not a whole quarantined family trying to get their own stuff done. Alas.