Michaeline: Double Duty


Black and White photo of magician Harry Houdini with ghostly image of Abraham Lincoln. They both seem to be looking at a book. Trick photography.

Houdini and Lincoln have a little chat through the magic of photography. (Via Wikimedia Commons)

I like efficiency.

Who doesn’t? Well, I must admit, my passion for efficiency has gotten me in trouble. I’ve spent so much time plotting the best way to do a project that I wind up with no time to start it. Or I’ve tried to make one trip with my bags of grocery, and found that by the time I finished picking up the dropped items from split bags, I could have made three trips. Striving for efficiency isn’t always the most efficient way to do things.

But still, the little German stereotype in my heart loves something that does two or three jobs at the same time. And a piece of writing that does two or three things is really a piece of beauty.

Take, for example, the opening line of MaryJanice Davidson’s Undead and Unwed. “The day I died started out bad and got worse in a hurry.” It sets the tone pretty quickly – humor, supernatural (most people who have died aren’t speaking to us anymore) and something that suggests a person not in control of his or her destiny.

Scenes can do more than one thing, too. The scene that illustrates the turning point or the end of an act of a story probably SHOULD be doing more than one thing. Lois McMaster Bujold has a dinner party scene in A Civil Campaign that accomplishes a whole bunch of stuff at once. It evokes humor, sympathy and pain. It introduces characters who previously didn’t know each other. It promotes the hero’s political career while at the same time wrecking his budding courtship. It provides the seed for what could wreck his political career, it destroys the plans of several minor characters, and it also leaves his house infested with butterbugs. And yet, it reads like a dream.

Even my little blog post can do more than two things at once. I’m busy reflecting on efficiency, when actually I started out to talk about Abraham Lincoln, who is having a birthday in February. I am not sure, but Abraham Lincoln might also have a big role in my book – my characters are having a seance the night before his birthday . . . to tell the truth, I didn’t really care who they were going to summon. I wanted the scene to be a conflict among the living. But it just so happens that my story is set during a blizzard in February, and it also happens that Lincoln’s wife was into spiritualism, and that Lincoln may have jokingly held a seance in the White House . . . . So, my big challenge is to do all the things I need to do to get my characters ready for the final act, and also figure out what Abraham Lincoln is doing there.

I’m cautiously optimistic that it’s going to work out. And I hope I figure out how to tell this efficiently . . . . May the Goddess of Writing grant me the patience to realize that the process is going to be anything but efficient.

How about you? Any stories about how the long way around a story problem worked out to be the most efficient way after all?

8 thoughts on “Michaeline: Double Duty

  1. I don’t know if the long way is the efficient way, but sometimes it’s the only way. Heaven knows, I putzed around with Lucy long enough, and now, here I am, still putzing with Phoebe. Eventually, though, I’ll get her finished.

    I love the idea of Abraham Lincoln in your book. The séance is brilliant!

  2. I’d be delighted to find the efficient way, Michaeline – so far I’ve only experienced the long way. Dealing With McKenzie was my first book, and I guesstimate that I probably deleted two words for every one that made it into the final draft. And I can’t begin to guess how much time I spent down a whole warren of rabbit-holes 🙂 . I’m hoping the next story goes quicker – maybe (say) I could just cut one book’s worth of blah blah this time…

    What Kay said about Abraham Lincoln. I’d love to know what he’s doing in your story. Did I say (maybe once or twice) that I’d love to read this story?? Good luck!

    • LOL, I’d love to know what he’s doing in this story too.

      I’ve been using that picture up there in my Halloween lessons at my day job for at least three years, so it was natural that when I realized the seance was taking place on the eve of Lincoln’s Birthday that my mind would jump there. Lincoln was a great president, but he also cultivated a down-to-earth, homespun image. He had quite the sense of humor, too, so (after I do a few weeks of research) I’m pretty sure he will be one of the best presidents to show up in a humorous paranormal woman’s journey (-:.

  3. I’ve come to the completely unpalatable conclusion that my writing process is never going to be efficient. I have to write my way into my characters, which entails writing lots (in the case of my current wip, dozens) of scenes I wind up throwing away. I comfort myself with the notion that it all winds up as subtext.

    • (-: Cold comfort, still, comfort to know we’re all in the same boat, and that efficiency must mean something else when it comes to writing! I should probably concentrate my efficiency efforts towards decluttering my writing desk!

  4. Per usual, I am trying to efficiently wrestle my current project into submission and, also per usual, it is having none of it. It’s just going to take as long as it takes, and it looks like it’s going to turn back into a short novel (as opposed to novella) along the way.

    • “It’s going to take as long as it takes.” LOL, I need a banner that says that on my computer. (Also, seems very Lincolnesque — “How long should a man’s legs be?” L: “(T)hey ought to be long enough to reach from his body to the ground.” (-: Just so. It takes as long as it takes.)

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