It’s always something. Just a few days ago, Jeanne talked about how she used enneagrams to clarify who her characters are, because she thought they weren’t behaving consistently. I usually have a pretty good grip on my characters right from the start—that’s almost always why I write a story to begin with. Somebody out there speaks up.
My problem is plot. And conflict. Which, if I had enough conflict, I’d have more plot. It’s a vicious cycle.
A few months ago, when I was ready to start a new project, I didn’t have any new ideas. Nobody spoke to me, demanding to be put on a page. The girls in the basement didn’t send anybody up. So I decided to write a story that’s been noodling around in my brain for a few years. It would be the continuation of a two-book FBI series, of which the second book was finished in 2012.
But I remembered the characters clearly, and I had this plan. It was a good one: my plot would loosely follow the real-life Silk Road case, one of the first so-called “dark web” crimes. Silk Road was a marketplace for drugs and other contraband, written by a bright, young libertarian guy (“free your life through pharmaceuticals,” more or less) who, it is estimated, brought in more than $1B in two years. The chronicling of this case is detailed and extensive.
I planned to conflate this with the LavaBit email case. LavaBit was an encrypted email service that Edward Snowden used to release his files. The FBI went after the LavaBit guy and all his customers in an effort to find Snowden, and in a brilliant legal twist, the LavaBit guy protected his customers and still evaded arrest.
So my heroine was going to be the LavaBit person, and the Silk Road guy was going to be the villain, and my FBI hero was going to find out that the Silk Road guy was using LavaBit to communicate drug deals. So then he’d have to arrest his love interest. Is everybody still with me?
Good, right? Fireworks! Conflict.
It turns out, even with a dang blueprint in front of me, I can’t write conflict and plot to save my life. My first problem: I have to carry over into this current book three the unresolved elements of book two. So, my heroine less than a month ago (in book life, at the end of book two) adopted five sexually abused siblings who don’t speak English.
Talk about a game changer, right there.
I always knew those kids were going back—her returning them to grandparents was supposed to be her emotional arc for the next book, whenever/if ever it got written. But now that storyline is taking too much time away from the central plot.
And my hero has a murdered brother, who Just. Doesn’t. Go. Away. The dead guy is sucking most of the air from the Silk Road plot, which—I know this is hard to believe—is sort of okay. My hero is looking for answers, and by the end, he’ll find some, none of them good. But that means the hero and heroine aren’t connecting. No romance! No conflict! Nothing!
And to put someone in danger, I had to change the libertarian Silk Road guy into a Mexican cartel, so that someone will eventually threaten someone else with a gun. And it’s really boring to have the heroine sit around and find clients for her encrypted LavaBit email service.
So the WIP’s not going that well yet. I’ve already written enough words for a whole book, but I’ve deleted almost all of them. I’ve rewritten Chapter 1 five times. I’m up to Chapter 7, but I’m not holding my breath that any of it holds together yet.
I take some courage from the fact that other authors (I’m thinking of Jenny Crusie, who taught our McDaniel class) crack a lot of oysters before they find the pearl.
So far, what do I have? Sand. A lot of sand. A sand dune, in fact.
Howzit by you?