I have finished the last rewrite-Ihope-of the latest adventure of Ellen McKenzie and Dan Dunham. In this one, Dan and Ellen get married, but not without a lot of roadblocks. Like, a houseful of homeless people, one of whom is brand new to this world, and a couple of murders which need to be solved before the wedding can commence. (Don't you just love big words) Anyway, I've worked and reworked this book quite a lot and think its about right, and its done. So on to the next project. Except I'm feeling a ittle lost. I always do when I finish, really finish a book. I've lived with these people so long, their trials and tribulations have become my own, that I feel a bit lonely without them. It's like when your last kid moves out and you stand in front of the washing machine and don't have anything to put in it. It's enough to unsettle the strongest woman.
This next book is supposed to be a "stand alone", meaning that it is not destined to be a series, and I really want to write it. I think the story is good and when I sat down to start it,I thought I had the plot already thought through. Only its not working out that way. I don't know these people yet. They aren't doing the things I want them to, not behaving in the ways I thought they would. I feel a little as if I'm attending a party with a bunch of people I've been introduced to, but don't really know. So-I'm spending a lot of time, sitting and staring into space as I try to work this out.
One of the first things you learn when you are trying to write fiction is that all action springs out of the character of the people in your story, so you'd better be more than casual aquaintances. (I hope I spelled that right. I don't want to get out the dictionary so please just go with it if I didn't.) Anyway, characters. In the workshops I have been giving, the ones where we take an idea and from that work out a story line, I keep telling everyone, would the person you just made up do that? For instance, would the shy little girl who can't bring herself to smile at the devistatingly handsome man who has just asked her to dance, really go to bed with him an hour later? Probably not. Nor would she pick up a gun and shoot him.If she's really that shy, that timid, she's probably never even held a gun. Or is that true? What would have to happen to make her so frightened that she would pick up that gun? And what is she doing in that bedroom anyway? Or is she really that--. You get the idea.
Every event, well, every or or less major event in the story leads to another event. You are constantly pushing the story forward, setting up some kind of scene, conversation, that propels your characters to the next event, and each time the tension needs to build. If our timid young lady has never read any Victorian romance, she just may buy the etching story and go to the bedroom to see these wonderous things. Imagine her horror when he expects a little more than what she's prepared to give. She backs up to the edge of the bed, one hand to her mouth, the other drops to the bedside table where, to her surprise, rests a pistol. She picks it up, says "stop, you cad," but he doesn't and she pulls the trigger, and---. No, I don't buy that one either, but we did move her forward with a cliche ridden lie from the dance floor to the bedroom, letting each action move the story along. Even if the story stinks, we moved it.
So, keeping these things firmly in mind, I will go back and see if I can move this new story along. These people are still strangers, but each day I seem to know them better, and as the days go by, I think we can untangle the plot threads that are in a terrible knot right now. If I can only figure out why that nice young man went into that ally in the first place---. I'll keep you posted. Kathleen Delaney