'Squirrel' Moments in the Life of a Writer
You probably know the adorable Dug, the golden retriever in the movie “UP.” He is a fun-loving dog who speaks via a special collar that translates his thoughts into speech, and though he is intensely devoted to his new human Carl, Dug often gets distracted easily, usually by squirrels.
In our home, when someone calls out ‘Squirrel!’ it means someone has been distracted or there is some tangent they’ve gone on that has led them away from the discussion at hand. Many, many times, the tangent comes back to the main topic and helps to enhance the conversation in some manner. Sometimes it only serves to give us a few chuckles and share interesting memory with others. In story writing, ‘Squirreling’ can have the same effect.
Plots and Subplots
In our series, Storm’s Rising, there is a major plot that threads all the books in the series together. In the world of Cyrradon the attempt by Urgrithka to do away with the demigod, Morab and take his throne is the major threading plot. Many of our characters are tied into this storyline, and the Five’s entire reason for being called is to counter this threat and keep Urgrithka from unleashing her plan to subjugate the world to her dominion.
Most of the main characters’ subplots thread back quite nicely to the major plot. For instance, Liadus Tiamat’s goals seem to be all about tricking Morab into a human body and helping Urgrithka into one as well, so they can war and (presumably) Urgrithka can kill Morab while he is trapped in human form. Of the Five, most of the young heroes are simply trying to do the right thing at the moment, and trust that their patron demi-gods will guide them. And Lendil Strongblood, our reluctant hero rogue, is just trying to find a way to discard his status as one of the Five so he can build his fortune.
In book four, Storm’s Rising: The Eye of the Witch, and in book five, Storm’s Rising: The Codex, the Squirreling Plot is (spoiler alert!) that Lendil is cast through time as an unexpected side-effect of one of Liadus’ spells-gone-awry and happens to plunk down in the middle of an attempted ambush on the Five.
This event seems detrimental to the main storyline – Lendil is pulled away from the current Five who need him, and from Phoenix, who is about to give him some very big news. It seems jerking our plucky beanpole rogue from the main story is nothing short of insane, but in truth it becomes one of the core moments in the history of the world that create the tides that sweep the story along in its current.
The end of The Eye of the Witch reveals that one of them (Lendil Strongblood or Liadus Tiamat) would never have been born had that spell not gone wrong and sent the thief back in time. This Squirrel Moment was quintessential to creating the motivations for much of what happens in the decades between that timeline and the present.
How Does One 'Squirrel'?
That very important part of the story came about from a squirreling moment for the writers (Jason and I) when we were creating the skeleton of the overreaching plot. We wanted to know why certain characters were motivated to do the things they did, or to feel the way they felt about things.
Why does Hawk Stormbringer seem to despise Miralana Starmist (Mea and Dia’s mother) so much? One piece of that puzzle is revealed in that thread of the story. We also meet Miralana for the first time.
Why did Alec Strongblood follow his father’s footsteps to become a knight, and get pulled into the Five? That answer is also hinted at in The Eye of the Witch (Hint: It has to do with birthdays and anniversaries).
Why did Mea and Dia grow up with a despondent father who mourned over his lost wife and eventually died from sorrow (so they are told), and why is it they lived in the shadow of their infamous mother nearly a hundred years later? Again – look to the Squirrel Moment, and all will be revealed.
How Can Writers Incorporate Squirreling into Writing?
As a self-admitted Dungeon Master (DM)/Game Master (GM) planner/pantser, I often found myself coming up with plots on the fly to keep role-players interested in what they were doing. I don’t really know how that works – I have a general idea of what is going on behind the scenes that the players’ characters don’t know about, but I have no idea how it affects the characters.
That is, until I do. It just comes out on its own, as if the characters are speaking through my keyboard.
One of the things I do when I’m creating roleplay tabletop games on the fly is to ask myself ‘what if,’ and ‘why not,’ and of course, ‘how would the bad guy react?’ Motivation and emotional investment are more important to me, as a DM, than stats and dice rolls. I know many players disagree, but it is. If the people playing the game don’t feel the pain of loss or the joy of triumph, then I’ve done my job poorly.
As a writer I have those same thoughts; why does the bad guy do ‘bad’ things, and what is it about what he is doing that makes him believe he is actually the good guy? The same thought holds true to bad girls in the story and let me tell you we have a few. Everyone is the hero or heroine of their story. They should be! Even Armondus the Inquisitor – boy, lemme tell you I’m excited about the prospect of writing an entire story devoted just to him – believes that he is in the right.
So when I write I let the possibilities meld with each other. I muse and fantasize about the characters and events and begin to thread their stories together. I plot. I scheme. I dream. The characters grow as they are developed. A simple Tarkuurian assassin becomes the key element in the story when she was once just a simple side character. A chance misuse of a spell (or two) spins destinies together. A small child who serves cheese bits and fruit to dignitaries become the key to saving the world.
One Final Thought About Squirrels
When we say someone ‘squirreled’ we are noticing the actions of the distracted person. Have you ever thought about the squirrel itself? What’s that cute, and sometimes exasperating creature doing? I’ll tell you. That little rodent is BUSY. It’s gathering food for the winter or the dry months of summer. It’s defending its territory. It’s finding a mate and raising a litter of little squirrel babies. That squirrel isn’t distracted. In fact, they are one of the more alert little critters I’ve observed, constantly scanning for trouble, and looking for opportunities.
So, one final thought – be like the squirrel. Be busy, prepare for what you know is coming, protect your little family (and friends), and be always on the lookout. Don’t get so squirreled by things that aren’t important that you forget to be squirrel-like. And dream. Always dream of the possibilities ahead.
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Thanks for reading! Look for future blog posts each week, from our own adventures in writing to character reveals and more!
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Rose (and Jason) – Legends of Cyrradon
Author Page: https://amazon.com/author/jasonandrosebishop