The Evolution of a Story

I recently published my second book, The Vulture King, which you can buy here. This post is going to have spoilers so if you haven't read it, please buy it and read it and review it.

It's a short fantasy novella that's got a folklore kind of a feel to it. It's a fable is what it is.

The interesting thing about writing this book was that it went through the most iterations of any story that I've ever written. Usually, I workout a story in my head, and sometimes on paper, and that's it for the story as far as the basic structure goes. But The Vulture King is the first book where I started with a completely different story, wrote the first draft, and was about to publish it when it began evolving pretty much on its own.

It began with the inspirational spark of writing a story about a man and a vulture, lost in the desert, discussing philosophy.

When I began writing it, it developed into the story of a King who revels in his strength but is left handicapped as he deals with the Vulture King. In this first draft, the King ends up becoming a beggar and finds peace in knowing that life is not about winning or losing, but rather about living in the moment. He finds that he can live in the moment much more easily as a beggar and is at peace with himself in the end.

This story had two problems.

First was that the second part of the story was almost entirely the King's internal monologue as he comes to terms with his fate. It was all philosophy that I wanted to preach through the mouth of the King.

The Second problem was that from the time of writing the first draft to the time I was ready to publish it, I went through a change in my own thinking and I did not believe in this "passive acceptance of fate" philosophy anymore.

I wasn't happy with the story but I had never reworked a story so much before so I was ready to publish it as it is and be done with it. But that's when the story began evolving on its own.

I literally had dreams where the story told me how it wanted to be told. The story told me that living in the moment is right but giving up is wrong. So the King needs to win in the end, using the technique of being present in the moment. I actually ended up using the ending of the first draft as the lowest point of the final story. Where once I was trying to preach accepting fate, I now felt disgusted by that philosophy and used it as the point where the King is the weakest. Giving up on the struggles of life because you think you can't win is just as good as dying. The vulture even points to him that he's in the land of the dying and asks him why he came here on his own.

The next evolutionary jump happened because I wanted the story to fit the mythological archetype of the hero entering the belly of the beast to transform himself. I figured out the idea of having the King be swallowed by a giant snake and emerge with the wings of a vulture. But I couldn't make the story work with the literal transformation. Once again, in a dream, the story told me, ironically, that it needs to be a transformation in a dream.

I think that whole bit gave the story a kind of edge that I couldn't have planned through conscious thinking. I wanted to publish The Vulture King to just get it over with but in the end I'm pretty happy about how it turned out.

I've been thinking about how this evolution took place. Practically speaking, it was my subconscious that was working on the problems I was aware of consciously. That's why the solutions came to me in dreams. Some psychologists believe that dreams are used by the subconscious to communicate with us. But one could look at it from a spiritual perspective as well. Maybe dreams are used not just by the subconscious but by the universal consciousness as well. Maybe our subconscious is just a node in the universal consciousness.

It's been a long time since I felt spiritually inclined about something but for some reason this idea makes me think this way. My left brain still tells me that I'm wrong and that it was just the subconscious but I'm keeping my right brain open to the possibility that it was something else.

This has also made me realize that a writer needs to give space to the story to evolve. If you start with an idea and plan the structure and write it out and then work on a few drafts, all in one go, then there's no space for the story to evolve. Writing a draft and then leaving it for a while, till it's completely removed from your conscious mind, is the best thing you can do. That's where the magic happens.

I'm beginning to get dreams about other stories that I had started long ago and then dropped for one or the other reason. And I feel like it's a good thing.