Monday, January 5, 2015

Psychology 101, Dominoes, and Answers to the $64,000 Question

Congratulations to Ellen Sepnafski who won Eleanora Tate's book, "Just an Overnight Guest."
For those of you who are writers, no doubt you have parried the question which friends and relations pose: 
"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.  
  1. 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.)
  2. 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.
  3. 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. 
  4. 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.
Dominoes: Like dominoes falling, story events are supposed to naturally trigger other events, as shown in this image from  photobucket:
    dominoes photo: Dominoes dominoes.gif
  1. When Lillie passes there MUST always be the risk that she will be seen by her black friends. 
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  1. 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. 
  2. If you open with something dramatic like a scene in a funeral home, you've got to revisit that place later in the book. 
  3. If Shirley was Kate's friend when she'd visited her grandmother previously, then she wouldn't reject her out right.
  4. If finding a broken Blue Willow teacup in a grave rocks the girls' friendship, than it needs to happen much earlier in the story. 
Pinned from
Although an unearthed teacup would not
look like this, it is an imaginative way to
re-purpose pieces of Blue Willow china.
So to answer that $64,000 question: it takes time to figure out how I will incorporate changes like these into my manuscript, and time to write it. The good news is that on January 1, Rebecca gave me a thumbs up on my recent plot outline. It started out looking like this,
but ended up looking much neater and organized. 
I'm starting the new year with a new vision for my book, and a few answers to my $64,000 question. 

How about you? How have you answered this question before? What are you kicking the year off with? 


Anonymous said...

I'm glad the notes helped and can't wait to see pages. Write on, my friend!

Kathy Cannon Wiechman said...

It always takes time for the plot to percolate before I write. As I write and more fully develop the characters, they often show me where changes need to be made. Those changes cause ripples that lead to more changes and so on. Writing a book is a challenge not to be taken lightly. So glad you have found a good path with a helpful guide.

Carol Baldwin said...

thanks, Kathy, for your kind note. You know exactly what I'm talking about!

Linda Phillips said...

Sounds like you have all the necessary tools for a mighty work of art. Write on, Carol!

Linda A. said...

Carol and Rebecca--what a strong writing duo team you are! Keep at it!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, LInda. We are!

miriam said...

Wow, this is impressive! I love the scientific way that you attack revisions. This story is really taking shape and I can't wait to read it in its final form!

Rosi said...

This is really impressive. Sounds like you are on a great track and have a terrific coach. Write on!

Carol Baldwin said...

Glad you liked it, Miriam. As you know--this book writing business is quite a journey!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Rosi. Appreciate everyone's support!

sheri levy said...

Wow! Sounds like you guys make a great team! Yes. I'm anxious to see your pages. So how long will it take you to write it!! What's taking sooo long---

Carol Baldwin said...

Ah, Sheri--you know what's taking so long! :)
Thanks for cheering me on.Carol

Kim Van Sickler said...

Carol, it seems like you have a clear way ahead with your story. It all makes sense and is the great thing about having another pair (or pairs) of eyes read your work. Friendly critiquers can gently remind you of these important stylistic elements.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Kim. SOunds like you have a great team of critique buddies with you too. They are indispensable!

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