By our irreverent guest today, J.Carson Black!! (Thanks Jake for stopping by!!!)
So this woman walks into a palm reader’s place and asks for a reading. The palm reader looks at the palm and says, “I can’t see your lifeline.”
“What do you mean? I just paid you ten bucks to read my palm.”
The palm reader shrugs. “Look for yourself.”
The woman looks at her palm and sees that the palm reader’s right—her palm is smooth and unlined.
“What did you think about on the way here?” the palm reader asks.
“I decided to stay with my job, even though it sucks,” the woman says. “And even though my husband is cheating on me, I’m gonna stay with him no matter what. It’s better than being alone.”
“You’ve made a lot of decisions in a short period of time,” the palm reader says. “Are you sure that’s what you want to do?”
The woman opens her mouth to reply. Of course it’s what she wants to do. She’s thought about it for weeks, and finally came up with her plan. In her mind, it’s set in concrete.
“Tell you what,” the palm reader says. “Go home and write it all up, everything you decided, put it away overnight, and read it in the morning.”
“Why should I do that?” the woman asks.
“Because then you can see it in black and white.”
The woman writes pages and pages about what she’s decided to do. She puts it away until the next morning. Sipping her coffee, she tackles the pages she printed up last night. She gets through three paragraphs and says, “This is crap”.
And so she rethinks the whole thing. She does the math, changes the equation, looks at the problems in her life from a completely different angle. Suddenly, it falls into place like the last pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. She goes back to the palm reader to thank her, shows her the lifeline on her palm. “Look at this! It’s a miracle!”
The palm reader says, “It was there all along. But now you can see it.”
I had my new thriller figured out except for the details. I don’t like to plot too far into the future, so I figured the details would work themselves out as they always did. I had my main character and the central conflict and the premise and some good scenes at the beginning, so I wrote. I wrote quite a bit, too. At a certain point I stopped to figure out what came next in the story. It would be easy stuff to figure out—or so I thought. When it came to that point, all of a sudden I couldn’t make the simplest decision. None of it worked together, no matter how hard I tried. But I was writing good stuff, wasn’t I? Why couldn’t I make my mind up on relatively simple plot points?
I decided it was time to print up everything I had and read it straight through. I promised myself I would be honest. The prologue was great; I’d read it a hundred times. The first chapter started out nicely. And then it all fell apart. I realized very quickly that I couldn’t force myself to read more than ten of the seventy pages I’d written. In an instant, I knew why: The main character couldn’t sustain the story. Every action she took pushed her into deficit mode. She was ineffectual, helpless, hapless, way too young for the part, and had no tools to deal with the challenges demanded by the story. And every chance I got, I instinctively marginalized her role, making her increasingly insignificant.
So I changed the character. Changed her relationships, changed who she was. I turned a number of circumstances on their heads; an inexperienced deputy of 27 with no official sanction to work cases suddenly became a homicide cop of 34 with familial ties to the potential suspect.
The stubborn plot pieces that wouldn’t fit suddenly flew together in a new way. New ideas cropped up and fit together with older ideas. The story evolved and became whole before my eyes. Fortunately for me, the secondary character had all the excitement the main character did not, and his story was interesting. I was able to keep his part of the book intact, since the two of them had not yet met.
I don’t know what made me stop, print up and reread what I’d written to that point. Certainly I had gone over most of those scenes many times on the computer, and I’d even printed up many of the same pages before. But when I saw the work in its entirety, I knew immediately what was wrong.
This is one of those elusive tricks of writing that goes beyond understanding. Even for those writers who don’t want to see beyond their headlights on a dark road, a part of them is working up ahead, making sure the path is clear. When obstacle after obstacle is thrown into your path, when you can’t see into the future at all, when seemingly easy plot complications are impossible to solve, your mind is trying to tell you something.
I take comfort in the fact that my subconscious is always by my side, riding shotgun.
How about you? Have you ever had to give your story a do-over?