Let’s Talk with Maggie Toussaint

Dressage Horse or Bucking Bronc?
By Maggie Toussaint

The gait of a horse can be compared to story writing, editing, and even marketing. During the creation of a story world and its characters, the initial feeling authors have is often prancing or flighty. Authors shy away from some ideas and gallop like the wind toward others. Along the way of getting the first draft composed, we settle into our conception of the main characters and the story world, which I liken to a contented canter.

Sometimes, ideas really sync, and the story flow becomes a dressage horse so that the momentum is precisely choreographed to a music only the author hears. Other times a story can fight the author like a bucking bronc, letting us know that our preconceived ideas are wrong, wrong, wrong.

In my experience editing is like a bumpy trot. Words need polish, sentence construction needs variation, and every scene needs to add to the main plot (in my case a mystery) or the subplot (for me, that’s the main character’s personal growth arc). If you’ve ever cleaned horse tack, and I’m talking about a deep clean here, you can understand some of what the author goes through with the scrubbing and polishing of a story. Some parts clean up easily, some require more elbow grease. But once it’s ready, it is a thing of beauty.

Have you experienced a horse changing gait? If they are speeding up, their hooves cover territory quickly until they reach the desired stride, then their speed levels out. When they slow down, they transition from a gallop to canter, then they hit a few bounces of trot before they walk. In the same way a regular horse/pony can’t go from 0 to 60 (or the reverse) without transitioning, a story needs bridges to move the characters from one scene to the next. In a writer’s world this changing of the tension or conflict level is known as pacing, so there’s another parallel to the world of horses.

Ever since the pandemic, many writers have struggled, much like horses off their feed. We want things to go back to normal, only we can’t make it happen. Days, weeks, and months passed as we stared at the blinking cursor as if words would magically appear on our monitor screens. Much like a bucking bronc, our imaginations want assurances that it is okay to be creative. With varying success, writers find the trail from the pandemic wilderness and once again go through their story paces.

This month I find myself nearing the end of an extensive edit on a book completely written during the pandemic. It needed a lot of work, but then so do all my books at this stage. Editing is my friend, much like a kindly trainer who uses encouragement to keep a horse moving in the right direction. Once the book is ready, I’ll send it to my agent, and we’ll see what happens. I’m hoping it will be a dressage horse and not a bucking bronc! As a bonus for you, here’s a recent dressage competitor video snippet in the Tokyo Olympics as seen on Twitter:

For a chance to win a print (US mailing address only) or ebook copy of SHRIMPLY DEAD, share something about horses. It can be where they race, what they eat, a breed of horse you particularly like, anything goes as long as the word “horse” is in your comment!