Michille: Solving Problems

Signpost pointing to problems and solutions.

Signpost pointing to problems and solutions.

I gave myself a break on my WIP between finishing my coursework and graduation. Now it’s time to get back in the writing saddle (or office chair). I had a brainstorm last night as I was drifting off to sleep on one issue, but I have several other problems that need solved before much more writing happens. The 40,000 words I have thus far, even though they’ve been edited, are essentially first draft words. There are great gaping sections of narrative, long sections of dialogue with little blocking or emotional undercurrents, and some obvious holes where I haven’t figured out what will happen next to inform the end of the scene (so it rolls over and plays dead). That draft was about story structure and it got the bare bones on the page. Now I need to flesh it out.

I usually know when I’m writing the schlock, but I remember in the McD Romance writing classes, Jenny said she wrote 20 pages on Dresden china or some such for Faking It that turned into a paragraph in the final. So I let myself write the schlock knowing I can fix it later. In my first draft, I knew I had to explain Sarah’s motivation for her project – the reason why she refused to back down. In the current draft it is several paragraphs of explanation in the first scene in which she is wandering around the house and thinking about it. Very much like the stories that start with driving and thinking or sitting and thinking, which is one of those no-no’s in fiction writing. I’m reading a story right now that starts with a guy riding his motorcycle back to his hometown after an absence and he is thinking about what a dork he was then and how successful and not-dorky he is now. It didn’t work. In Angels Fall by Nora Roberts, Reece is driving and thinking in the first scene and it works. I’m not one to throw something out because it goes against the “rules” of fiction, but I will take a hard look at it.

In the case of explaining Sarah’s motivation, I knew when I was writing it, that it had to change. Kay (and maybe others, too) asked if ‘all of that’ really needed to be in there. Obviously, it didn’t work for her, but I already knew that. Last night, my drifting-off brainstorm was a conversation between Finch and Sarah where some of her motivation comes out. Not all of it. And then having a scene with Sarah’s family where the interactions among the family members show some of it. Not all of it. Those additions mean that some of that dragging prose can come out. Not all of it. Some of it needs to be right there in the beginning. That’s something that I have fixed before in drafts. I’ll note where there is a big, long narrative description and figure out where in the story the reader needs to have what portion of that info and then work it in. That’s how Sarah’s motivation will be worked throughout rather than dumped on the reader in a boring, repetitive 3- to 4-paragraph exposition. Fix narrative exposition by doling it out through the story using a combination of reveals (narrative, dialogue, action).

Two other problems that I want to tie together (so the story is stronger) are the refusal of the city council to grant the waiver for the addition and the supernatural aid (I’m keeping the stages of the hero’s journey). At the moment, the supernatural aid is a Moleskin journal of encrypted money-laundering transactions. It was kept by a cousin of Sarah’s who interned with the city and is found in a wardrobe at the house she inherits. It doesn’t work. I’m thinking it will be stronger if somehow that journal was created by one of the bad guys, got stolen from the bad guy 12 years ago, was stashed in the wall of the house, the bad guy knows this and is refusing to grant the waiver for the addition because he knows the journal could be unearthed. Another idea is that there was a HAM radio operator (an old guy who was a boarder of Great Aunt Gertrude) who intercepted communication and kept a journal of it and, again, hid it in the wall (bad guy somehow found out, yadda yadda). Problems are legion and include – why the wall? how does the bad guy know it’s in the wall? why didn’t whoever kept the journal go to the authorities with it in the first place? Fix plot crater with . . . no clue.

Another problem is making my criminals smarter (and meaner). I have a habit of using the news to aid in my scene creation. It will be more realistic if it’s something that actually happened, therefore if someone reads it in my story, they know it’s plausible, right? In the climax, my hero has his cell phone and the bad guys don’t take it. Several of the Eight gave a variation of “that’s just too easy.” In The Liar, Nora Roberts’ heroine has her cell phone and the bad guy doesn’t bother looking for it. There is a girl, right now, that the mom thinks is being held captive against her will because the daughter snapchatted to her friend that she was being held (really? Snapchat not 911? you can’t fix stupid). When I interviewed the Sheriff of my county for my project, he said criminals are stupid and gave me several examples – hence the cooking of the meal and then throwing the hot food and knocking the criminal over the head with the frying pan, which was also not a popular scene with the Eight (but a hilarious story from the sheriff). In this case, reality doesn’t make good fiction. Fix stupid – that’s fiction and I haven’t figured out how to do that either.

What problems are you trying to solve? Do you have any solutions for me?

20 thoughts on “Michille: Solving Problems

  1. Oh good lord, do I have problems. My problem? Legal marriage. See, to be married legally in England in 1815, a few things had to happen.

    1. You had to either have a special license, a common license, or the banns had to be read for three successive weeks. The special licenses are used a lot in Regencies, but they could ONLY be granted by the Archbishop of Canterbury (or his designate) from his office in Doctor’s Commons. (Right now, Susannah is in Rye).

    2. If you wanted a license, it had to be approved by the wedding couple’s parent or guardian if they were under age 21. (Susannah’s not quite 21. Her guardian is her uncle and there’s no way he’s going to sign off on her marrying anyone but the nasty viscount.) You can get around this by calling the banns (see below).

    3. If you weren’t using a special license, you were limited as to where and when you could get married. The banns required 3 successive weeks of asking the parishioners in the home church of both the bride and groom if there is any reason they should not be married. (Sidenote: parental consent was not required when the banns were called; it was assumed that if the parent didn’t protest, they sanctioned it.) A common license could be issued, but that limited the couple to where they could marry (their home church or another designated parish) and it required them to wait 7 days (don’t forget parent/guardian consent!). In both cases, you could only get married Monday – Saturday between the hours of 8 a.m.-noon.

    4. The couple must sign the church register. You could go through the motions of the service, say your “I do’s,” but if you don’t sign the register, the marriage is not legally binding.

    My problem is that right now Susannah is in Rye trying to get to France and she’s offered to do another “I’ll marry you and split my dowry if you agree to it in name only” to the son of the man she wants to take her to France, but she technically can’t marry in England, and Scotland is on the other side of the country.

    The only other place they could marry without any parental consent was Scotland. (The rules were even more strict in Napoleonic France, and the Netherlands, Austria — basically anywhere Napoleon had a hand-hold.)

    See? Big. Problem.

    • Justine – would having them married in Guernsey (75 South of Weymouth) help any? It was similar to being married in Gretna Green.

    • She could get married on a Royal Navy ship, I think? There must have been plenty patrolling and blockading the channel between England and France, and Mr. Smuggler must have had somebody in the navy in his pay, to smooth his smuggling.

      Or smuggler tells Susannah they’ll be married at sea, but he never intended to marry her – he was going to kidnap her for ransom instead. Or hold her till her birthday.

      Good luck with figuring out another way for S. to get almost-married!

      • IIRC from an online course through The Beau Monde, the ability to legally marry at sea was a myth. I was going to use that for my current book, then ran into that snafu. Then I decided the heroine wasn’t about to get married at that point in the book, anyway, so that was one problem solved!

        Neen – I like Elizabeth’s idea of marrying in Germany, if their laws were different. And they are just planning to marry, correct, so they don’t actually have to get there?

        • I wasn’t sure about the marriage at sea thing, Nancy, but I checked out the website from the Royal Maritime Museum, Greenwich – they said there is no specific provision permitting it, but it seems as though it did happen – see their research page http://www.rmg.co.uk/researchers/library/research-guides/general-introduction/research-guide-a3-tracing-family-history-from-maritime-records

          The page even has a link to a list of marriages that happened from the 1850s onwards – names, dates, vessels, etc – so it’s not a complete myth. Maybe this will come in handy in future – or you could add this interesting anomaly to the research notes of the Beau Monde.

        • Thanks for the link, Jilly! I’m bookmarking it for future reference.

          I wonder if it was more common/legally recognized after 1850? So much was changing during the Victorian era. My series was originally set in the 1830’s, but has now moved to 1869-1870 to incorporate certain social movements, but since the on-board marriage didn’t happen for my h/h, I didn’t look into whether it would hold up at that later date.

  2. Michille, sorry to hear about your “plot-crater” but I’m sure you will figure out a great way to fill it. I like your solution of working Sarah’s motivation in various parts of the story. That makes a lot of sense. No advice for how to make your criminals smarter (meaner); that can be a real challenge.

    As for my own story, no current challenges, other than just writing. I spent a lot of time this past weekend re-plotting a few key sections, clearing out some scenes that were unnecessary, and clarifying some motivations. Now I just need to make sure everything still ties together and in the right order. No problem, right?

  3. I really enjoyed your bare-bones story, Michille. I think the fleshed-out version will be great!

    I like the idea of the journal being kept by the bad guys. The thing with bad guys is, I’m sure they rip one another off as well as the good guys, so it would make total sense that one of them would keep records. Or maybe it was the accountant, who kept it as an insurance because he was scared that they’d do away with him when he outlived his usefulness. That would explain why he never went to the authorities. If he was really paranoid, maybe he kept two copies (typical bean-counter). They killed him for the book, and then found out too late there was another one. Or something πŸ˜‰

  4. You know, except for that huge hole in the middle, I thought you were writing pretty much end product there. It was very entertaining, and it didn’t feel “junky” like my first drafts tend to feel. Really clean prose with a great story supporting it from underneath.

    Re: the notebook in the wall. The way I remember this scenario being played out, it’s usually the bad guy, stuffing it in a remodelling project wall, after murdering the guy who owned the notebook. Or it’s a kid who finds some crack in the wainscoating, and sticks his/her secret journal in. Adults don’t tend to fiddle with wainscoating . . . but perhaps something comes loose when it’s bumped with a chair (or a body). The bad guy stuffs it in, planning to go back. And then can’t because (fire, house changes hands, no opportunity over a limited time span).

    For this long, I think the bad guy will just have to be satisfied that it’s hidden enough — until the wall is endangered. Or maybe Aunt Gertrude was in on the murder. Sweet old lady by day, money launderer by night? Secretly in love with bad guy? Her death would make him uneasy; the changes in the house would make him frantic.

    I’ve got problems that I’ve been trying to drown in research. It’s helping, but not a lot. My bad guy is trying to create an alternate energy system with the power of ghosts. He’s a Tesla — not that Tesla, but a bit deluded by his visions of power and future. He manages to capture Abraham Lincoln’s ghost (research has helped a lot with this part of the knot — I’ll have someone get a few threads with Lincoln’s blood from the pillow on his deathbed; also, Lincoln’s Birthday). But it’s not enough power. Tesla thinks it’s a matter of quantity, not bad science, so he makes arrangements to have a seance in a haunted theater (all theaters are haunted, aren’t they?) possibly built over a cemetary for plague or influenza victims.

    But there’s a million loose ends that need to be woven back into the fabric. Michael James, Bunny’s publisher and love interest, is also a member of some sort of New York Guardian society, which preserves the balance of the spiritual and the mundane in the New York metropolitan region. Olivia Sage, who gave Bunny the camera, is also in this society. Bunny’s parents rejected the spiritual world, but all of her grandparents had talents (dowsing, visions, herbalism). So she’s aware of the spiritual world in a very localized sense, but not aware of it in an organized, societal, almost governmental sense. Like the difference between microeconomics and macroeconomics . . . .

    I can hardly make Bunny’s goal be: “Learn about the benefits of macro-spiritualism”!!! Nobody is going to read a book with that tagline! Right now, her goal is to get her own photo studio and be independent. But she longs for Michael James, and now I realize that her real goal is to grow as a magician/guardian. Just she doesn’t know it yet.

    Argle!!! Too much stuff in my head! We never really picked apart what it means to have a goal that one doesn’t realize is one’s goal. Maybe that’s my post for tomorrow.

    (OMG, I hit send, realized my connection was gone, and was afraid this rambling was gone forever! Then, it showed up again!!! OMG, OMG, OMG. I have to start composing in Word and pasting it here . . . . Saved. Even though this post is a bunch of rambling crap, I think I’ve had a breakthrough.)

    • I think you can definitely have the conscious goal that the protagonist thinks he/she wants but that isn’t really the goal. I know I’ve read stories like that but I can’t think of any examples right now.

  5. Michille, I remember that narrative passage I wasn’t crazy about! Even though the info was good to know, it was too much at once. It sounds like you’ve fixed that up. As for the journal in the wall, I like the idea of the bad guy creating the journal and hiding it in the wall and thus refuses the waiver. That sounds like conflict to me, rather than the old codger boarder who eavesdrops. The codger could be a good character and subplot, could even eavesdrop—maybe he supplies the clue about where the journal is?—but I think the agency mostly has to come from the crooks. Sounds great! Loving the bones so far.

    • Thanks, Kay. I definitely have more thinking to do on the journal, but at least one problem is solved – the long narrative passage answering the question ‘why’. One down, 50 million to go.

  6. Late to the party, but: could the hero also have an iPod touch (looks like a phone at a glance but isn’t), or a work phone, that the baddies take instead? I teach high school and have confiscated a phone (not allowed during the school day) only to have the student refuse, then relent… And hand me a different phone! I mean, obviously that kid had planned the burner-phone trick in advance, so I don’t know if your hero is that sort of person.

    Perhaps he has a Bluetooth headset in his other pocket and can voice dial and call if the phone itself is still in range–the criminals place it on the table out of reach?

    Most of my problems ate are based on having no idea what’s coming next and an adorable toddler who, speak of the devil, JUST woke up from his nap!

    • I’m so glad you are late to the party. Those are excellent suggestions. I like it. I have more than one technology in my purse and I just got the new C.H.I.P. $9 computer that has wifi – Finch or Sarah could have one of those.

      • Definitely! And smartwatches are gaining popularity, too, and I’m pretty sure you can send outgoing messages from them (would require some research, as I’m not sure if they’re only text or only voice, or how easy it is to do, but, again, as a teacher… this is an item I’ve had to confiscate from students! Hahaha). So the criminals may be competent enough to take the phone, but not the supplemental communication technology… or might mistake the other stuff for the only stuff…

        Now I’m off to google the CHIP $9 computer! I have never even heard of such a thing!

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