"What's taking you so long to finish your book?"This question, often accompanied by skeptical looks and eyebrow raises, may or may not accompany genuine interest and bemusement.
I have heard it more times than I care to remember.
(If you aren't familiar with my YA historical novel Half-Truths, you can find a pitch and relevant blog posts here.)
I've been fortunate to work with Rebecca Petruck as my book doctor/editor/and all-around cheerleader. As I reflected on her feedback on a 34-page outline for Draft #4, I realized that her comments fall into three categories: psychology (deep characterization), dominoes (story events), and plot. Or,
Psychology + Dominoes = Plot(For a great explanation of plot and story, see this blog from the amazing folks at Writer Unboxed.)
So for your benefit (and for any of my relatives who happen to be reading this blog) here are some of Rebecca's suggestions which I need to incorporate into my next draft:
Psychology 101: Characters must always act true to their personality and the time period and/or story world. Rebecca is gifted at seeing deeply into who a character is and how he or she will act.
- Kate's upper-class grandmother would NEVER ask her granddaughter to fix a barn in her Myers Park back yard. (And yes, my Charlotte friends--there were barns for animals in Myers Park in 1950. But fixing them would have been the help's job. Not the family's.)
- Lillie's parents would do whatever they could to help Lillie get an education. Lillie's mother wouldn't be jealous of Lillie's dreams; she would fear her daughter's dreams might take her far from home. (This observation was actually expressed by one of my African-American experts. Girls who went to college in the 50's stayed close to home in case they were needed.) Lillie's father would also want what is best for his daughter, including trying to protect her from disappointment.
- Kate's family wouldn't have moved off the farm in South Carolina unless it had been sold. Aging relatives who took them in years earlier would demand a "we'll stay here and help" mentality.
- Lillie's anger would not be in realizing that she has "white blood" in her. She knows that already. It would be her connection to her employer's family that would send her over the edge.
- When Lillie passes there MUST always be the risk that she will be seen by her black friends.
- If Lillie steals something from her employer, she's got to be caught with it. (Like showing a gun in a scene. It has to go off. Note: I took this scene out. Not only was it too difficult to figure out how she'd be found out, it was historically unlikely, and not in keeping with her personality See points above in Psychology 101.)
- If Kate's father is in the Korean conflict, his safety will be of great concern throughout the book and will affect Kate's choices and actions.
- If Laura's mother's arc is contributing to the family's nest egg, then how will her growing independence from her mother-in-law impact Kate?
|Rebecca and one of her works of art:|
my new plot chart.
- If this story is about an unlikely friendship between Lillie and Kate, then they need to meet as soon as possible in the book. In other words, that can't wait until Chapter 4.
- If you open with something dramatic like a scene in a funeral home, you've got to revisit that place later in the book.
- If Shirley was Kate's friend when she'd visited her grandmother previously, then she wouldn't reject her out right.
- If finding a broken Blue Willow teacup in a grave rocks the girls' friendship, than it needs to happen much earlier in the story.
Although an unearthed teacup would not
look like this, it is an imaginative way to
re-purpose pieces of Blue Willow china.
How about you? How have you answered this question before? What are you kicking the year off with?