Artwork by Benjamin Parry
I knew vaguely what the premise was, I'd alluded to it several times earlier in the novel: Basically, the character was forced to leave her planet because of some action that could have caused her and her family major grief had she stayed. I had been vague about exactly what it was she'd done, for two reasons: First, because it was a teaser that should help keep readers curious enough so they'd continue reading until they found out.
Second, because I didn't know what she had done. Not even a nod to the specifics.
That she had returned to her homeworld in spite of this bad thing might get her and her companion killed. She needed to tell him about it.
Don't cross the streams, Egon tells Ray and Venkman
It would be ... bad ...
Bad? What does 'bad' mean ... ?
I knew I had to figure this out eventually, it was important backstory, and probably I would want to hang a big plot-point on it. I didn't see an immediate answer, so I tossed it onto the back porch and let it be.
If you have the luxury of time, this is a great way to solve a writing problem. In our culture, through comics, books, TV, movies, story-tellers, we have plenty of experience at plotting and story lines. The three-act meme is part of our culture, we all know what it is: Beginning, middle, end.
We also know the elements necessary to tell a tale, to make it interesting.
You don't need to be a skilled writer to tap into this, you grew up with it. While you might have some trouble parsing it insofar as the process, diagramming this or that, you know it, and you understand what a story is, and what needs to be in it to make it make sense.
You certainly know when somebody leaves it out. Wait a minute, that's wrong. Why would he do that? Where's the motivation? Oh, come on! Nobody is that stupid!
As a beginning writer, I sometimes got a rejection that asked me to fix something in a story. "Change this," with what specifically was needed? Yeah, I could do that. "It's broke, fix it." Too general, it wasn't enough. I had a story-telling instinct, but not enough technical skill to deconstruct things.
That's why you study and learn about the craft, to be able to take stuff apart and see what's busted. You can't fix it if you can't even see the broken spring.
Here, I knew who the character was, knew her family, her ex-lover, and what job she'd been doing when this pivotal event happened. I knew what I needed the current situation to be.
I had all the elements necessary, one linked to another, if I could but assemble them.
Give the subconscious dog on the porch a bone upon which to gnaw, he'll worry at it, until he figures a way to crack it and get at the marrow. That dog, in my experience, is smarter than you about such things. Certainly smarter than I am.
Time on this particular project is tight, so I don't have the luxury of sitting back and allowing the pup to do all the work. In such a case, you have to force it, and while it can get messy, a sledge hammer will crack open the bone and do the trick. But this particular problem didn't have to be addressed right away, I had time to work on other stuff first, so it could wait. Chew, pooch, chew ...
How I knew it worked? I had my female character say, I've never told anybody all this before, but probably you should know why I left my homeworld ...
After that, I just followed along and typed in what she said/he said. All kinds of things I didn't know popped up, and at the end of the scene, the jailer arrives and the door opens, but it's all there.
So, workwise, it was a very good day.
You live for such.