#amwriting and I have a question for you…
The First Reader and I spent about 6 hours yesterday in a car together. We are both exhausted today, and feeling slightly hungover. These trips are worth it, to see his parents and we love doing them, but the driving takes a toll. On the other hand, it gives us mostly uninterrupted (besides the dog who needs a potty break) time to talk. Like all long conversations do, it rambled from planning the wedding (keep it short and simple, we both agree) to the stray cat who wants to adopt us (I promise not to let it in…) to the books we’re working on.
I’m currently taking what was a planned short story and expanding it to a novel. This means that what I had created as the plot must change. The thread of a short plot is too attenuated to support a longer story line. What had been the main arc is now only one color in a tapestry that encompasses a much larger palette. Because I can’t outline, or I lose the story, we talked about the main character’s background, motivations, and upcoming conflicts. I’d already set up a minor conflict that would have been resolved in about 5K words had this stayed a short story. I’m keeping that, but before resolving it, I will introduce at least one, and probably two, other conflicts before I start resolving anything. And this is only the beginning third of the book I am looking at right now. There will be one huge conflict that will take the length of the book to resolve (this is not planned to become a series, only one novel).
Resolution destroys tension, and tension is what draws the reader forward through the story like a fish on a hook (don’t worry, I’m strictly a catch-and-release writer. No pan-fry’s for me). I’ve seen this summarized as ‘chase the hero up the tree, and then throw rocks at him for a while before you let him come down again.’
I prefer my main characters to be involved in their own rescues, rather than a benevolent hand-of-god to descend from the heavens and swot the rock-thrower hard enough to knock him silly (Deus ex Machina). This is usually accomplished by setting up a series of try-fail sequences. Sarah Hoyt explained it as digging his hole deeper with each try, until he gets it right. In this story, I know that the main character faces a series of obstacles, some that he knows are there, some that will pop up as hideous surprises, and others he will choose through his decisions as he travels through life (and the story).
I can’t image writing a story without some of these elements. Plot, tension, conflicts, all ultimately lead to character development and growth. For me, this is what I read for, the characters.
How about you? What are you looking for when you pick up a book?