Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What Happens Next? Who Cares?

Sharon Wildwind

I had lunch with a fellow writer. In answer to the question, “What are you’re working on?” I received a long list of “and thens.” . . . “and then she decides she has to go back to Vancouver . . . and then she runs into an old school friend . . . and then they try to find out why Harold divorced his wife . . . and then . . .”

I found it hard to care, and then, going home I tried to decide why. It was because during the entire description I was never clued in about what was happening inside the character. What motivated her? What internal struggles did she face? How had she grown because of the experience?

Which is a shame because this writer’s work is nowhere near as dull as her lunchtime recitation. Her stories are full of internal, meaningful character exposition, so why did what she told me resemble listening to a bus schedule? Was she in query-letter mode?

Is the internal life in or out of query letters just now? Would it be better to start with, “University student Jo Fleming survives by driving a cab at night.” or “Every night, Jo Fleming cruises downtown Toronto stalking the person who ruined her mother’s life.”? I think the second choice grabs my attention a whole lot more.

It would be interesting to write a story without a plot in mind. What if we started with an opening incident, but no clue about what would happen next or where they story was going? Maybe, at first, we wouldn’t even know what kind of a book we were writing.

A Week to Kill

Every night, Jo Fleming cruises downtown Toronto stalking the person who ruined her mother’s life. When she finally meets the man of her nightmares, they are both a long way from the corner of Bloor and Dundas. With a week to kill in a posh resort where three Canadians have already died, Jo revels in the opportunity to plan a perfect murder. But, she, not her quarry, may be the fourth Canadian tourist to die. Desperately running from an attack, she is horrified to realize the only person who can save her is the man she hates enough to kill.

There. So what’s it going to be? Mystery? Thriller? Romance? Science Fiction? Paranormal?

Have fun writing.


Quote for the week

Your heart is the beacon, your heart is the storm. Dare to embrace it; you'll never be torn.

~Vanna Bonta, novelist, poet, film actress, and inventor


Elizabeth Zelvin said...

I don't think it's unclear, Sharon. If that's the query blurb, as an agent or editor I'd expect suspense, or possibly romantic suspense, although if the latter, I'd either tweak the query slightly or say "romantic suspense" in the first paragraph of the query. There's no suggestion of paranormal or SF, and it doesn't conclude with finding out whodunit. It sounds like a great story, though. :)

Sandra Parshall said...

YOU should write it, Sharon. I already want to read it.

You're so right about character being the heart of any story. If the characters don't interest me, the greatest plot in the world won't keep me reading. But I will put up with a weak plot if I'm crazy about the people living it.

Susan Oleksiw said...

I once had the same comment from a friend after reading a draft of a novel I was struggling with. When she laid it out as you have ("and then . . ."), I could see what she meant. I hadn't reached the heart of the character and why she was doing anything. Once I realized that, I recast the story and it worked--it flowed just the way I had hoped.