This week I read a blog post over on Writers in the Storm by Margie Lawson called “10 Not-Absurd Tips for Writing Fiction.” My favorite was, “Honor Your Controlling Premise.”
Or, as an HR person I once worked with on a personnel problem counseled: Don’t Get on That Bus.
After a verrrry slow start, The Demon’s Secret Baby finally seems to be coming along. One of the things that’s made this story take so long to write is that it had so many possibilities. The premise is: A pair of deeply-in-love demons are separated by Satan because they represent a threat to his power. Ten thousand years later he offers them a chance to be together again for a few weeks and she winds up pregnant.
It felt like every scene, every event, every conversation in the book could go a thousand different ways. That’s true of every book, but this one felt more wide-open than others I’ve written.
Here’s an example:
Satan tasks Sam and Lilith with setting up arrangements for peace talks with Heaven. Satan wants to “knock the wings off,” their angelic counterparts, so he wants a venue that rubs Heaven’s face in the fact that Hell has serious influence in the human world these days. Lilith knows the perfect spot: the United Nations Conference Center in New York City.
Unfortunately, securing the use of the U.N. Conference Center for several weeks is a a huge challenge. The Secretary General of the United States doesn’t believe they’re demons and even if he did, he doesn’t think it’s in Earth’s best interests to have a delegation of demons running loose in Manhattan.
I wrote a scene where, in an attempt to persuade him, Sam and Lilith demonstrate demon possession, and another where Sam exhibits his ability to heal with unnatural speed. The Secretary General reluctantly consents to letting them use the campus.
As I was drafting the scene, once he agrees to give them free run of the UNCC campus for a few weeks, he did what I think a real Secretary General would do in those circumstances: he demanded to have a human delegation present at the talks. He felt, quite reasonably, that since Earth is where the battles between Heaven and Hell are waged, humans have a vested interest in the outcome.
While this is logical, it creates a whole new subplot, and that subplot doesn’t belong in a story about two demons who have a One-Night-Stand-With-Consequences. In Margie’s terminology, it doesn’t honor my controlling premise.
The HR guy was warning me that there are some conversations it’s better never to let get started and it’s the same with subplots–if they don’t fit in your story, it’s best not to set foot on hat bus.
Eventually I took a look at the length of the book (already 70K and I still have 26 scenes to write) and realized Margie and HR guy were right. I needed to stay on task and on topic. It still feels weird to me that the U.N. Secretary General would be aware of a cosmic summit that could profoundly affect life on Earth and make no effort to be part of it. I suspect it will strike some readers the same way but if anyone complains I’ll just tell them we can take that bus ride another time.