The Wedge of the San Rafael

The Wedge of the San Rafael
Someone has to live here, in the middle of desert beauty. Might as well be the Kellys.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

All that stuff in the middle

Vondell and I were driving to water aerobics this morning, and she had some questions about writing, one, in particular, I know many writers must get: Where do ideas come from?

That's never been a particularly interesting question for me, because it just happens - I get ideas. Other people are good with musical instruments, or maybe crafty stuff, or knitting, but I Get Ideas.

The more interesting issue for me is what makes a story believable. I told Vondell that's what I enjoy - getting from point A to point B in an efficient fashion that doesn't defy logic. Anything other than that is what I jokingly call that the After-Wonder-Boy-Escapes-from-the-Cave Syndrome. You know, or maybe you're waay too young, those desperate moments in the weekly Saturday matinee serial cliffhanger. Right at the end, Wonder Boy is left in a desperate situation, a true cliffhanger. All too often, the following week's Wonder Boy serial begins with Wonder Boy out of the desperate situation of last week and on to something else. The derring do becomes the derring did, and I don't know how it happened.

Even when I was little, I knew that was a crock. I mean, how did Wonder Boy escape from the cave? Inquiring minds want to know. Point being, if you're going to get Wonder Boy in a desperate spot, you'd better know how to logically get him out of it. If not, you don't have a credible story.

I learned more about this years ago, when Life magazine ran an article on the sequel to Tom Sawyer that Mark Twain never finished. I think it was called something like Becky Thatcher among the Indians. Twain had written several chapters, up to that point where Becky, older now, is captured by Indians out West.

And there it stopped. In the 19th century, white Americans were convinced that once white women were in the hands of Indians, that rape would always follow. Sometimes it did, and sometimes it didn't. Twain realized he couldn't take that next logical step, or he would lose the allegiance of a lot of his loyal, Victorian-era reading public. He put the manuscript away and never finished it. The sensibilities of the times wouldn't allow him to take the next logical writing step. Anything else he did wouldn't make the work credible, and Twain fully understood the matter of events following events in realistic, logical fashion.

To me, that's the challenge of writing: Does what I am writing make logical sense? It needs to be entertaining, but it also needs to be logical and credible, if readers are to give themselves wholly to the story.

Some wag once said that fiction was "one damned thing after another." This is so true. I think anyone can begin a novel, and anyone can end one. The ability of the writer lies in all that stuff in the middle: how it gets the reader from once upon a time to happy ending.

My newest novel, The Admiral's Penniless Bride, is a good example of the logic of fiction. What happens to Sally Paul throughout the novel, beginning with the Meet Cute in Chapter One, builds on something logical that inadvertantly happens in Chapter One. Her harmless introduction comes back to haunt her, and it's all perfectly credible. A far-more-skillful example is Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd, where Bathsheba Everdene's impulsive gift of a Valentine to Squire Boldwood sets up the eventual fraught consequences. What delicious fun.

That's one of the many things that makes writing fun. Years ago, when I worked in hospital public relations, my boss made an interesting observation about me.  June was a pretty good writer, but a much better photographer. She labored over her writing, and it wasn't much fun for her. She told me, "Carla, the difference between you and me is that you like to write, while I like to have written."

She was absolutely correct. The whole process intrigues me, even the tough parts.

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