I’ve found that many people believe that the author of a story is the one who comes up with it. It is certainly the most scientific explanation, the explanation that makes the most sense, but by no means is it what I have experienced.
There are several things that may help explain this, first being the question of inspiration. If one is the one coming up with the story, shouldn’t they be able to decide on something anytime and write it down? However, to write a scene, I have to wait for that inspiration, visualize it, write it down in one notebook, think about it for a while, and then type it, revising as I go along. And that’s just the first draft, there is no guarantee that it would end up in the final.
Second of all, it takes a long time for a scene to ‘feel right’. The first two iterations of The Lost Isle both ended up terrible, chiefly due to character development. Rereading revealed them to be 2-dimensional, unaffected by the plot. They were all Mary-Sues, perfect characters who reacted conveniently to avoid conflict. They did exactly what we wanted them to do. But characters who do only what they are told never seem realistic- the development we’ve done this time around has given them subplots, motives, dreams, pasts, and fears. They make their own decisions now, and to watch that is one of my favorite parts of being a writer.
Finally, and this is likely the hardest to believe, but to us the story is real. The world of Iona, Anabru, and Lashaar was created by stretching perceptions of our world in a believable way (the way the trees whisper, the increased awareness that some people have of the world, etc.) It is easy to forget that it’s fiction. I’ll try to give a character something they dream of, but after writing it I realize it never had any part in the story. When one stumbles upon what I’ve taken to calling an ‘Absolute Truth’ for their writing, it can hit you hard. There are things I’ve done to my characters that I wish I never had to do, things I wished I never had to say, but the fact- and I do see it as fact- that the story has previously existed prevents me from changing it. If I did, it would be worth nothing.
There is a different kind of truth I’ve found in writing, and to explore that realm is more exciting than anything I’ve ever done. It’s not a scientific truth, with tangible evidence and equations to back it up, but it is a literary one. I’ll probably have to do a series on what I suspect it is, but J. R. R. Tolkien wrote a lovely essay on it here. Read the parts on the Faerie Realm, and you will perhaps understand it a bit. Whatever it is, we’ve called it the Shift, the realm of imagination, the layers of reality that make up life. As Christians, we know for certain that it exists on a smaller scale (physical reality and spiritual reality), but with the Lost Isle we have expanded on it.
Perhaps if it is the Realm of Imagination, we as writers simply see into the worlds and write their story. When the Shift comes into play, it isn’t so easy to distinguish fantasy from reality.