So that's what I've spent most of the week so far doing--sneaking upstairs whenever the pupses fell asleep, reading my old notes and drafts, and trying to reorient myself. The problem is that I've set up this--well, I was going to say "giant conspiracy," but really, it's not. It only feels like one because I ended up creating it from my heroes' point of view: there are bad people out there doing bad things, and they don't know what they are, and here are cool moments in which they discover things and/or get their asses kicked trying to. You know everything you've ever suspected about Lost, that the writers may not even know where they're going with the whole thing? I mean, I personally think they have an end game in mind, but this is basically how I started creating my "conspiracy": from the inside out, paying more attention to the cool spooky moments than the actual logic of the situation. True confessions: you know the creepy boys who attack West in (I think) chapter two or so? I currently have no idea where they came from or what they're for. I wrote that three years ago, and I still don't know. It was just my intention to have them and figure out where they came from later. Which is great and all, but when you try to move forward, you find yourself extremely confused and scattered. What I neglected to do--and interestingly, have not neglected to do in projects I've started in the three years intervening--is work the "conspiracy" out from ground zero and move outwards. The heroes start from the outskirts and work in, which is not how I should be doing it--I should know where they're going, even if nobody else on God's green earth does. Because that's my job as the creator.*
So here's what the "conspiracy" really is, and I mean that in a non-spoiler sense: there is a character, and he is trying to survive. He's the Big Bad, of course, but I like the idea that villains are simply people whose interests are opposed to the heroes'. A monster, for example, wants to survive; he wants to eat. Unfortunately, he wants to eat you, but if that's inconvenient to you, that's not his problem. Operating off this philosophy keeps you from stereotypical mustache-twirling villains, I feel (and it's probably one of the reasons I love Dead Man's Chest so much, because EVERYONE'S interests are opposed to everyone else's). So there's a character, and he needs food, he needs shelter, he needs money. He starts drawing in other characters as his associates, his henchmen, whatever--through charisma, seduction, blackmail, bribes, or simply common interests, whatever it takes. His survival is contrary to the interests of most of humanity, really, and the more associates he has, the worse it is. West is a sort of bounty hunter, as you can gather from even just the first chapter, and his prey are this character's associates. He doesn't even necessarily know that This Character is the ringleader, but he's heard things, and he's trying to get to the bottom of it. The essential conflict is going to be between West, Rose Hannah, the White Hats, whoever, and This Character and the Black Hats. (Have you heard my new garage band, This Character and the Black Hats?) Really, this is pretty standard stuff. But it probably says a lot about the amount of growth my writing's undergone in three years that it seems "pretty standard" to me now, in the sense that it's one of the first things I'd sit down and figure out after I'd noodled around with an idea or a new character long enough to decide that I wanted to create a full-blown story around them.
So now, in a nutshell, I have to sit down and iron all of this out. And here's where this may become useful for anyone reading now, because you can iron plot tangles out pretty simply. What you do is you make a list of your characters and, under each name, answer the question:
What does he want?
Rose Hannah is particularly interesting to me because I knew from the beginning what she wanted--or rather, that she didn't know what she wanted; she had gotten her medical degree (relatively rare for the period, so clearly she's very self-motivated) but she doesn't know how she wants to use it, if she wants to practice medicine at home, marry someone who's opposed to her working at all, marry someone who's a good friend and would probably respect any decision she made, or go to India and make a grand career of women's medicine where it's desperately needed--but which would probably preclude marriage. She has a lot of options, many of which are discouraged by her social circle, but she's the kind of woman who's willing to risk disapproval. And then, in the middle of this, Something Happens that pretty much erases all of her options. Now all she wants, all she can want, is to cope with Something That Happened, and to survive it if possible. And by the beginning of the second series, there's something new that she'll want; and if I write a third, which I'm mulling over, I've thought of something else for her to want. And from just about the beginning of this project, I've known this. But I've only thought of her antagonists in terms of how they affect her, rather than what they themselves want. And the reason this got in my way, I've come to realize, is that I couldn't muddle out why they were doing the things that affected her. I mean, just to be evil? Because that's what These Characters do? It falls apart if that's all you've got.
What happens when you sit down and ask of each character, each character who has enough face time to be worth the asking, "What does he want?," is that you end up with this network of desires and interests. When you put any two of them in the same room, you automatically have ripples in the water. If you know enough about what each character wants and his general personality--how one would react to anyone else--what happens next happens pretty organically. I realized this when I was looking for something for Amelia Sharpe to do--she had enough spark that I couldn't believe I'd apparently just invented her for a single chapter, or possibly to bring back just to walk through and snipe at Rose Hannah. What if you put her in the same room with This Character? I went back and thought about the one interaction we'd really seen with her--Amelia making a play for Pansy's fiancé, who wasn't someone Amelia knew terribly well, had a history with, or any unrequited love for. She wanted to flirt with him just to show that she could, just for the pleasure of taking something away from another woman. What does she want? Probably to marry well, marry money, but this one random thing I wrote three years ago suggests that she likes having power over other people. I don't mean Moo-Ha-Ha Evil Power, but if someone said, "I could make you the queen of your social circle," she'd probably jump at that, and in fact, her name was meant to evoke the novel Vanity Fair. So if you take characters you've already come up with, characters who are probably names and a couple of traits on a page, and figure out what thing (or two or three things, even) drives them, it's like you've taken a toy top and put a spin on it. And you can send that top out into a room full of spinning tops and watch the fun. There's a character I have planned for the second novelly thing named Emma, and she's extremely attached to This Character. Also, Emma 1) is from a very poor, low-class background, and 2) will cut a bitch. If Amelia goes after This Character, that particular top is absolutely going to go after her. And Amelia, from what I know of her so far, is very likely going to pull out some claws of her own. And keep in mind, these are two fairly minor characters, and they're already off doing things on their own. They can power the various alliances and betrayals and counter-betrayals you might need to keep a plot going, particularly if you bear the saying "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" in mind.
Which is a long-winded way of saying that the whole revision (literally, re-vision) thing is really exciting, and that it's a useful exercise if you get stuck in your own writing.
(Yes, linkspam will come back soon. Right now, I'm just kind of enjoying actually writing entries instead of compiling them.)
Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch,
1. We've just discovered we owe $4000 in back taxes, which is so very, very bad;
2. Shelby's having a hard time eating her Milk Bones, so I think she may be close to losing some baby teeth;
3. I don't have to go to the dentist on Thursday, which thrills my soul;
4. Sister Girl also has her Culinard graduation buffet on Thursday, and I'm digging through my closet for anything remotely nice to wear;
5. And I have some massive bathroom cleaning to do before the Evans air-conditioning tuneup guy comes on Friday. Which sounds like a non sequitur, except that you have to go through the bathroom to get to the attic door. No, I don't know who thought that was a good idea either.