I’m not getting philosophical here. That’s literally what I wrote at the top of the page in my notebook this morning, while the laundry spun. We are on day elebenty billion of a heat wave, though it’s almost October, I am wearing a white sundress because we are on day elebenty billion of a heat wave near the end of October, it is laundry day, and, for someone who has used the hashtag #gothlaundry on more than one occasion, one wears what one has on hand. None of this has anything to do with writing, but it does have a lot to do with why I wrote those words on the top of the page.
Original intent was to read, but, if I can’t muster more than a “meh” for the newest book by on of my all time favorite authors, it is obviously time to do something else. I did not bring any lettering stencils with me, so that left writing. Yesterday, N and I spent our critique time talking about direction and the outlining and/or re-outlining we both need to do for our respective WIPs. Outlining for her, mostly re-outlining for me. Change one thing in one chapter, and then whoosh, it affects the rest of the book. Even when has already written that book, or thinks one has written that book. It’s humbling.
Author and historical consultant, M.P. Barker, also a friend and, for many years, invaluable critique partner, calls this the mushroom effect. Pull up one floorboard to fix what one thinks is a minor issue, and whoops, there’s a whole farm of mushrooms underneath. Or something like that; I should probably get her to explain this better, but that’s basically the gist of it. The goal is not to burn down the house (note: M.P. Barker’s husband is a firefighter, so this may verge on an unintended pun) but to fix the floor. So, deal with the mushroom infestation, then get back to fixing the floor.
In this case, a generic character becomes a specific character, and logistics of who can be where and do what, when, call into play not only calendars, but phases of the moon, what Hero might have on his person at a given moment, travel times, what servants do what jobs, and, on the large scale, what happens to everybody.
This means everybody. Everybody. If they got a name, they get a fate. Though Critique Partner Vicki wants me to kill off two characters, there’s no reason for either one of them to die in this story, and, really, letting them live with themselves is the worse fate, anyway. Question is, where do they do that living? What about the servants? Supporting cast? Various relations, whether our hero and heroine are close to them, or not? When hero and heroine go on a sea voyage, who goes with them? As writer buddy H terms them, these are fancy rich people, so when they go somewhere, they are going to bring people with them. Hero’s valet, heroine’s maid, other people to deal with the stuff that has to come along with them, and does the one family member who goes with them get their own servant, or do they share with their relative of the appropriate sex?
This is the part of second drafting where the keen eye of a critique partner catches dropped threads, when questions like “what happened to the teacup?” (Spoiler: nothing of note happens to any teacups in any of my books so far, other than that people drink tea out of them. Presumably, people also wash them, because that would be disgusting if they did not. This is only meant as an example.) This is also the part where the author looks at the page and says something like, “Huh,” because they kind of wandered off after their character set down the teacup. There was a duel or something happening next, (there are no duels in any of my books, either, at least not so far) and the fate of a teacup is not the most pressing issue at that moment, except that it is, or, more accurately, it can be.
Bertrice Small once said that, if you have one thousand readers, nine hundred, ninety-nine of them are not going to catch those dropped threads. She also said to write for the one reader who will, because they will let you know about it. Seeing as she had over sixty titles to her name, and a Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement award, I think she may be onto something. Hence the notebook page, which will get transcribed, printed on green paper (you bet I color code all this stuff) and put in the notebook that I now need to completely overhaul, because I always set these things up wrong the first time.
I don’t mind the tearing-down-to-the-studs part of a book. Actually, it’s one of my favorites. The grunt work is done, and now I get to fine tune things. Sometimes, a lot of things. Sometimes, that does require tearing down a load-bearing wall, to keep with the renovation theme, but I’m okay with that. By this point, I know the characters better, and, when asked which servants are going along with our hero and heroine, it’s not all that hard to think about who would want to go and who would want to stay, who would have run off, and who says forget the whole thing, I’m marrying this other servant and opening a shop of our own.
There are still moments, though, where it all feels like a LOT, and the idea of a blanket fort (in this weather, one with central air conditioning would be a must) holds great appeal. Greater, though, is the appeal of getting it all on paper -has to be paper for me- and getting it all out where I can see it, because that makes the excitement greater than the fear.