It seems to me that everything in my life is related to construction of some sort right now. My writing group has been discussing the construction of a compelling story, my sister promised to send me directions for constructing a giant pumpkin trifle, and Hubby and I, with sweaty hands and a keen eye on the checkbook, are about to begin construction on a rental remodel.
Our vast real estate holdings (ha!) include a little house in a quiet family neighborhood here in southern California. It’s not a bad place at all, but the bathroom is tiny–think “turn around at your own risk”–and the kitchen could use a facelift. Oh, we might as well add a bedroom while we’re at it. A few years back (OK, maybe 25 years) we contemplated doing an addition on our own home. At that time $46,000 would have bought us a second story, with two bedrooms, a master bath, a family room, and maybe a few little upgrades along the way. Surely that amount would be good now for a new bath and a few extra outlets in the kitchen. You would think so…
When we started checking out prices on the internet, which is a frustrating exercise to begin with, we pretty quickly determined that our original budget would get us a contractor to provide the new outlets and maybe the demolition of a wall. Beyond that, we needed to rethink things just a tiny bit. At this point, we’re figuring around $75,000 if we agree to handle the painting, flooring, fixtures, and little items like that ourselves. What happened?
The real estate construction is the most costly in dollars, of course, but I’m not at all sure that it’s the hardest. (Dismiss the trifle; I’m sure I can work that out, especially if Sis sends pictures along with the instructions.) But the writing is a challenge.
I have a good hook. Not a left hook, or a right hook, but a narrative hook. I can write a first sentence that will almost guarantee that my reader will say, “Ooh! What comes next?” Well, lots of people can do that. Just as an exercise, check out the blogs in front of you. If you sat at your computer forever, you wouldn’t run out of things that catch your eye. Unfortunately, a good percentage of those nice beginnings turn out to be dull treatises on someone’s personal meanderings through life, interesting to them–at least at the moment of writing–but not designed to retain a reader’s attention. Fiction is different, and harder. And that’s where the problem lies.
Somewhere along the way, a writer has to come up with a plot if he wants the story to go anywhere. Oh, it’s great to have your reader tell you your characters are quirky and believable, that your scenes are so true he could walk right into them, and your dialogue sounds just like the guy down the street. You can do all of that in the first few paragraphs. What will keep the reader still entranced after the first ten pages is plot. The construction of a plot is as important as the laying of a good strong foundation for a house; unfortunately, fiction plots don’t necessarily pop up with plans and specs. Even the writer who knows pretty much what the beginning, middle and end of his tale will be has to be prepared for the almost inevitable Change Order. That’s what I call it when my protagonist suddenly finds himself in a situation that he can’t possible survive–and I’m writing in first person. At that point, it’s necessary to make some changes and, as with physical construction, the author had better be prepared to pay the price.
The price for me, as a writer, is sometimes 10 or 12 pages of wonderful, magical words that flowed effortlessly…until the obstruction that caused the Change Order. For example, I have a character in one of my stories right now who is sitting in a hotel room, scared to death, and I have no idea at all how to get him out of there without deleting the last eight pages leading up to that situation. The story is hiding out in my someday-I’ll-get-around-to-it file because I really like the writing in those eight pages and it hurts me to think of dumping them. In the meantime, I’ve moved on to other stories. A couple of them are coming along, a couple more are very, very close to the C.O. dilemma, and a whole lot are still in the first flush of new, fresh sentences and paragraphs. With any luck, I’ll contruct a few things that will intrigue the friends I choose to share my tales.
As for the house, we’re in the doldrums right now, waiting for finished plans to go through plan check and permits. When the foundation finally gets dug, it will involve losing a grapefruit tree and a fuji apple tree, a small price to pay to gain the new part of the house, which will be wonderful if we’ve plotted it right. For now, I’m hanging up my hard hat and my keyboard; I’m going to take a step back and run to the market for a large can of pumpkin and some whipping cream.
I’ll see you again, after the commercial.