10.31.2017

What Is the Rush?

As you transition from your notes and/or character sketches to the actual chapter you want to write, you face choices about when to use this material. The temptation, especially with a minor character, is to use all of the notes at once. After all, you have collected them and they have to get into the book sometime, so why not now?

You may instead want to split up those notes and ladle them out in dollops as the novel goes on. That way you create intrigue by giving incomplete information. Let’s say the protagonist is trying to understand how Annika could have been murdered. She asks her sister Darlene if she had come by Annika’s house on the fatal night. Now, what notes do you have? You had Darlene projected as only a minor character, and you have only a few paragraphs. You could provide all of them at once and eliminate the “Darlene” section from your notes. After all, you know she didn’t kill her sister.

What if you break up the pieces you have, though, and string them out? Maybe Darlene at first says she called Annika that night. In a subsequent scene, however, a neighbor says he saw a car like Darlene’s, identifying three of the last letters that match her license plate, parked in the driveway. Now Darlene has to explain that, in fact, she did visit Annika that night. She just didn’t want the cops to be suspicious unnecessarily. Despite the excuse, the flavor of Darlene’s participation in the novel now is quite different.

You also wrote notes about Darlene’s being seen at a local bar with Annika’s estranged husband, Ron. You had thought that it would misdirect the reader in a minor way—because you know that’s not where the book is headed. Darlene actually agreed to meet him there because he’s such a lush that he heads there straight after work, and she wanted to discuss a birthday party for her niece before he got drunk and belligerent for the evening. You had thought that would prove her innocence. But if the protagonist first hears that Darlene and Ron were drinking together, now Darlene’s cute explanation about the niece takes on a different flavor. Oh, really, that’s what you were talking about?

All you did was break your notes into three pieces. Now someone who was not in the running could be a person of interest, at least for a portion of the book. Isn’t that a better use of your notes?

Exercise: Review your manuscript for any conversations in which a huge chunk of information about a character is spilled out all at once. If you can, break the notes into a number of pieces. Once you have broken them apart, think about how they could be used in conjunction with other plot developments. That clump of passive background notes could become active pieces that help drive the story forward.

“Simplicity is the most difficult thing to secure in this world.”
—George Sand

Copyright @ 2017, John Paine

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