Michille: Solving Problems

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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. 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 expose. 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 was a girl 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 research, 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?

4 thoughts on “Michille: Solving Problems

  1. I do pretty much all of the things you’re talking about in my early drafts–stupid (if realistic) criminals, coincidences, too much explanation, too little motivation. It’s what first drafts are about. And the advice you got from the Ladies–that’s what beta readers are about!

  2. I’m so glad to hear you’re back in the saddle with this story, Michille. There’s so much great stuff in it, and once you work through those remaining issues, I can’t wait to read it again! And really, the things on your list are very fixable. Not like the time I wrote and revised a 400+ page manuscript, handed it off to critique partners, and got back lovely notes that ended with “and now the bad news: your MC does not arc.” Tragically, they were right. 400+ pages and no character arc. THAT was a bad day. And a manuscript I never did fix.

  3. I’m really interested in solving that problem of the journal in the wall. I’m not sure I’ve got all the elements straight, but…I like the idea that there’s a gang of bad guys. One of them keeps the journal. Nobody trusts each other, so one of them takes it and hides it in the house. (Maybe the wall, maybe not the wall. We don’t know.) Maybe the gang in the house is surrounded? Or isolated? Or there’s a time issue? Or there’s no gas in the car? So everybody in the gang knows that the journal has to be in the house, because the thief of it could not have gotten outside to hide it elsewhere. Now we have the gang-member journal writer in a position to refuse the building permit for the addition because the journal could be found. He doesn’t know where it is in the house—it could be the attic or the basement or the wall—but because of demolition, he can’t afford for the house to be taken apart. I like that idea. My only problem with that is that the thief knows where he put it, so why doesn’t he retrieve it if he can use it and it’s valuable? Maybe he’s dead. That would work. 🙂

    Did you see Jenny’s post in which one of the comments mentioned a fun technique of putting as the second sentence of any book, “And then the murders began.”? Brilliant. http://www.avclub.com/article/improve-any-novel-changing-its-second-line-and-the-251576

    • That’s what I thought when I started to read your thoughts about the gang and one member who hid the journal, Kay: that guy died. The other bad guys know it exists and somehow have narrowed it down to that house (for some reason), but they don’t know exactly where it is. Maybe there are even unexplained holes in the walls and ceilings when Sarah moves in…or not. It’s Michille’s story :-). But yes, as long as it makes sense within the context of the story and no one is too stupid to live, I’m on board!

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