The pain. The pain. The pain of letting go of a piece of a plot that you love. Sigh.
Backstory first. VZ is the YA novel I’ve been working on for over 20 years. DC is the main character, a 16 year old boy. Last night I’m brainstorming DC’s plot with my husband and it hits me how similar DC’s story (the original one) is to Hugging the Rock in that both stories had a mom who wanted to abort the baby and a dad who convinced the mom not to do it. While I know that we do tend to tell the “same” story over and over again, there must be a limit as to how close we come to doing the same thing. Here I was thinking I was all ready to sit down and go back to work on the book and I have a MAJOR problem. Grumble grumble. I’m back to thinking stages trying to figure out some reason that the birth dad would need to get a bunch of money for some reason that involves DC. I suppose it could be a court battle (or lack of) but it isn’t nearly as exciting as my original idea.
But that’s not why I’m posting. Since this book is a story I’ve known for a whole lot of years I’ve been looking for fresh ways to approach it so that what I write is NEW and not a rehash. I have heard for years that many people study screenwriting techniques to help them with their novels. As I came to the end of the edits on HTR I ordered a bunch of screenwriting books to find out if it would work for me. I’ve never 100% grasped the “hero’s journey” concept of writing though in bits and pieces, it makes sense. Some of these screenwriting books are great because they break down well-known movies and map them to various pieces of myth. I’m learning to understand some of the roles that I need my characters to play for each other in order to have a strong story. (I’m still working on the execution part of it.) The biggest thing I’ve been trying to do before I started my rewrite was to understand DC’s character flaw. It’s the key to everything. In all the other versions this kid is a nice kid and he has nice parents and isn’t it sad about his dad and everyone is just, well, too damn nice. Not anymore. I’ve found it fairly easy to rethink all the other main characters in terms of flaws, attitudes and actions except for, well, the most important one. Grrr.
Rob Tobin’s book
How To Write High Structure, High Concept Movies talks A LOT about character flaws and basically says that the flaw in your MC is one of the most important thing in your story. I quote, “The relationship between the hero’s flaw and the lifechanging event is the most important element in any story.” He also talked about the things at stake for our hero, which we all know is important, but that the ultimate thing at stake was that the hero would have to give up his flaw which is akin to “asking them to take off a bulletproof vest in the midst of gun battle.” I like that.
Some light bulb moments because it all resonated with me. So I scratched my head some more and wondered, as I have been a lot lately, what DC’s real flaw was because that’s the big issue. THEN Tobin gives me the answer. Well, okay, not an answer but a clue. He says, “you can use one element to figure out the other ones.” Well duh. I just never thought of looking at plot that way before – maybe all of you already did. If you want a character who is brave at the end of the book he needs to be afraid of something at the beginning. Which means for this book, I need to know how I want it to end before I can figure out how I’m going to get there. Whoa. And there we have it. That’s what I think has been the stumbling block for years with this story. Normally when I write I sit down and follow the character around and see where he goes. I’ve done this for years with DC and he’s taken me to some interesting places but not the right places.
I had a 2 hour brainstorming session with a friend on the phone yesterday and she asked me, “What story is it that you want to tell?” Well I had that answer before she even finished the question. I’ve ALWAYS known what story it is I wanted to tell about DC. I want to tell a story that shows readers that it doesn’t matter what kind of people you were born to or how you are raised but that you are in charge of the type of person you will become.
Well maybe that’s the story I want to tell but I am not so sure it’s the story that DC NEEDS me to tell.
Oh my. My brain might just explode. Every time this happens, every time a story takes wing and becomes its own, I am amazed. Where did it come from? How does it happen? Will I ever be able to do it again?
The story I think DC needs me to tell (and that I needed a member of my critique group to help me see) is that it is all about trust and forgiveness and unconditional love. Sure, some of my ideas might be woven in, but it’s a different ending than I was originally aiming for and that means a different approach from the beginning. I’m still not sure how this will translate into a character flaw but I feel like I am getting closer.
I feel like this is the fundamental thing I need to understand about the book before I can go much farther.
Thanks for the thought-provoking post.
Thanks, Kelly. I hope your brain doesn’t feel like it’s going to pop because mine sure does. GRr. I’m going in circles.
You definitely made me think. Thanks for sharing!
Good luck with your novel – I have a feeling it’s going to be amazing!
Thanks. I love thinking about my own process and hearing all about how other writers manage to get their stories down.
This Is A Keeper
For a brief moment yesterday, I understood how I’ll soon be struggling with the same thing. It was a brief moment because I immediately went into denial. Thanks for this post, Susan. It pulled me back out.
Re: This Is A Keeper
Hey…I’m right there next to you in denial. My friend keeps telling me to just write the damn book but I keep spinning in circles. Coming in my next post…prologues.
This really got me thinking about what I’m working on right now (a sequel). In the first story, the character flaws of the two main characters were easy to figure out and did relate to the plot & climax. This time around, it’s not quite so easy. I have theme, but now I’m wondering about flaws. They exist, but how do they tie into the outcome? Hmm.
I’m glad it helped you think and I hope you work through your own plot soon. I’m impressed that you have theme. I don’t have theme, not for sure, until the end. I mean I know what I want to be the them but it often evolves into something else.
I don’t usually have theme, either. This is the first time I’ve known what it was almost from the beginning. Usually I’m lucky to be able to pick one out later, and often it’s one of my first readers who sees it where I don’t. Too close, I guess.
DARN! Now remember why I don’t like Blogspot! I can’t reply back to people from there. Thanks for visiting the new blog. I think it will be easier for newbies to get set up and link from there. Gosh, I wish you could reply to emails!
I think I’m confused but then my brain is on overload….what do you mean reply to emails???